The region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, the birthplace of three religions, was already in the 1st millennium B.C. a centre of sea trade with India. From the 7th century A.D., Islam did spread and around the year 1300 Osman I of Turkey started to submit the region. With World War I the Osman empire ended and in 1927 the British recognized Saudi Arabia, the biggest state of the peninsula, as an independent kingdom. The Arabian peninsula is the place of world's richest oil resources and the Emirates showed a way into future.
"Mecca" of Khedivial Mail Line, the former "Lady Rodney", at Algiers on 5 April 1953 (photographer anonymous, coll. WS)
In 1952 the Egyptian monarchy was overthrown by General Nagib, in July 1956 the USA tried to prevent building the Aswan Dam, in the same month Nagib's successor President el-Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, in October 1956 England, France and Israel started the "Suez adventure", the USA re-established peace, but from 1967 the canal was blocked after Nasser's attack on Israel had provoked the "six days war". The "Mecca", sunk in the canal, was the former "Lady Rodney" (8,194 gt) of Canadian National Steamships, acquired in 1953 for Jeddah services, while her sister "Lady Nelson" had become the "Gumhuryat Misr", later "Alwadi", for the Mediterranean - Alexandria route. In 1975 President as-Sadat achieved re-opening of the Suez Canal and in 1982 the Sinai peninsula was given back to Egypt.
Pilgrim services were provided by various enterprises of different countries. The services Java - Jeddah by specially equipped freighters of the Nederland Line, mentioned by Laurence Dunn, are just one example. An odd fate had the motor-ship "King Abdelaziz", acquired by Saudi Lines of M.A. Bakhashab for pilgrims' services in 1964. She had been built in 1922 in the USA as "Missourian", became in 1948 the "Genova" and later the "Flaminia" of the Cogedar Line and was chartered in 1961/62 by ZIM Line, stranded near Jeddah in 1965 and then continued services until 1970.
The Greek ship-owner J.S. Latsis, who had started Greek island services after WWII, concluded a "water for oil" tanker business with the King of Saudi Arabia and arranged also early Hadj pilgrim services. "They slept on the deck and someone had even brought their cattle with them", reported a retired captain. The "Marianna" II (ex "Henrietta", ex "Highland Brigade" of Royal Mail Lines) undertook pilgrim work. According to J.M. Maber, the former "Stratheden" and "Strathmore" of P&O were to join her as "Henrietta Latsis" and "Marianna Latsis".
Another task had the hulks at the coast of Saudi Arabia. The Latsis group sent the "Marianna VI", the former "Aureol" of Elder Dempster Lines, as a hulk to Jeddah. In 1979 followed the "Margarita L", formerly the "Windsor Castle" of the Union-Castle Line and in 1982 the "Marianna IX", the former "Principe Perfeito" of the Companhia Colonial de Navegacao, used as hulks. The "Athinai" of the ailing Greek Typaldos line, once the nice 9,000-tonner "Santa Rosa" (I) of Grace Line, undertook her last voyage with pilgrims from Asia to Jeddah.
Of course Asian companies served pilgrims' traffic, too. The Mogul Line ("for pilgrimage traffic only") and then the Shipping Corporation of India offered services from Bombay and the Pan Islamic Steamship Co. from Karachi to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Still at the beginning of the 21st century, Cook's timetable listed the Pan Islamic with a service from Karachi and the Shipping Corporation of India with a service from Mumbai (Bombay), both for pilgrimage traffic only. But pilgrimage by air developed rapidly.
Red Sea Services
The ABC Shipping Guide listed e.g. in 1978 services between Suez and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia by Arab Navigators and Jeddah - Hodeida in Yemen already with a car ferry "Alpasha" of Saudi Lines. And there were still some passenger-cargo services crossing the Red Sea. Cook's timetable mentioned (e.g. in 1983) services Suez - Jeddah by Misr Edco Shipping, Mohamed Sadaka, Najd, Saudi Maritime Transport and Jeddah - Hodeida by Saudi Lines.
The Sudan has achieved independence in 1956. The Sudan Navigation Co. was founded in 1954. Their motor-ships "Suakin" (1926/ 2,335 gt, the former "Brabant" of Fred Olsen) and "Sudani" (1929/ 1,927 gt, ex "I.K. Ward") were introduced on a Port Sudan - Keddah - Suez route. Around 1971 Hussein Mohamed Fayez & Sons acquired them and the old "Brabant" continued services as "Radwa". In 2005 the timetable listed still the Port Sudan route by Fayez, but at least the additional call at Berbera in split-up Somalia seemed questionable and new information was not found.
The Red Sea was notorious for shipping catastrophes. In 1991 an Egyptian ferry on a Jeddah - Suez service hit a coral reef near Safaga and sank within 15 minutes. 476 people died. The ship was the car ferry "Salem Express" of Samatours. She had served the Corsica route as "Fred Scamaroni" and in 1982 she was acquired by Lord Maritime Enterprise of Egypt, which sold her in 1988 to the Samatours Shipping Co., an Egyptian private enterprise, owned by the Salem family.
In 2005 the ferry "Pride of Al Salam 95" of El Salam Maritime sank after colliding with a bulk carrier near Suez. In 2006 the car ferry "Al Salam Boccaccio 98" left Duba in Saudi Arabia at 8 o'clock in the evening, caught fire at half past nine and at 3 o'clock in the morning the vessel capsized within a few minutes, taking thousand people with her down. The ship had been built in Italy in 1968, three decks were added in order to raise capacity from 500 to 1,400 passengers and in 1998 she was sold to Egypt. Fire and instability in spite of additional sponsons were considered the cause of the catastrophe. A curiosity was the arrival of the "El Salam 97", the formerly German train ferry "Deutschland", in 1997, laid up. She had been acquired for pilgrims' traffic. El Salam Maritime of Egypt continued to be listed as the traditional operator of the Red Sea services.
The fate of second-hand ships transferred to the Red Sea probably never can be traced completely. The "Erimo Maru" of 1972, later "King Minos" of Minoan, was employed from 2005 by Namma Lines as "Mawaddah". In 2006 Namma Lines took over the former "Torres" of Tirrenia as "Ramah" for Safaga - Duba services. The car ferry "St. Columba" of Sealink, then "Stena Hibernia", "Stena Adventurer", "Express Aphrodite", became in 2007 the "Masarrah" of Namma Lines, maintaining her HSW paint scheme, employed on the Jeddah - Bur Sudan (Port Sudan) route.
Modern Red Sea traffic developed. Hi-speed services between Egypt and Saudi Arabia were opened by El Salam Maritime and by International Fast Ferries. Hi-speeds were introduced between Egypt and Aqaba, Jordan, by Arab Bridge Maritime, founded in 1985 by the governments of Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. In 2007 the company acquired the former "Pegasus Two", one of the Fincantieri MDV1200 monohulls, renamed "Queen Nefertiti".
In 2006 Greek ship-owner Apostolos Ventouris chartered out the monohull hi-speed "Panagia Parou" for Red Sea services and started operations Safaga - Jeddah with the larger "Aeolos Kenteris" (2001/11,705 gt) in charter of Namma Lines. In 2008 it was announced to employ the French-built hi-speed monohulls "Aeolos Kenteris", "Panagia Thalassini", and "Aeolos Kenteris II" on services between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In that year NEL Egypt was founded. Its Web site described the fleet consisting of "Elios Kanteros", "Red Sea I" and "Red Sea II". In 2009 however, the "Aeolos Kenteris" (ex "Red Sea I") and "Panagia Parou" (ex "Red Sea II") returned to Greece.
"Aeolos Kenteris" of NEL Lines, Piraeus 2005 (WS)
Cook's timetable mentioned e.g. for 2008, apart from the traditional ferries of El Salam, Misr Edco, Najd Trading and Fayez, hi-speed services Hurghada - Sharm El Sheikh by Silver Moon and Nuweiba - Aqabah by Terbo Cat and Arab Bridge Maritime. The magazine Ferries reported delivery of the Austal catamarans "Riyadh" and "Cairo" to the Maritime Company for Navigation, a present by the Saudi Arabian royalty, to be employed from 2009 between Safaga and Duba, Saudi Arabia.
Generally, a complete survey of Red Sea ferry shipping cannot be given, for information is scarce.
The former kingdom of Yemen was split up in 1997. Hodeidah in the Yemen Arabian Republic Sana was connected with Jeddah by the drive on-drive off ferry "Alphasha" of M.A. Bakhashab's Saudi Lines. For the communist Yemen P.D.R. of Aden, Cook showed not any shipping service. The difficult task of re-uniting the country was solved between 1990 and 94, but insecurity continued.
A surprisingly daring initiative was started by Sheikh Tarak Bin Laden, proposing a gigantic bridge between the Yemen and Djibouti. In 2009 a ferry connection was to start and by 2025 the bridge should connect the continents. Cook's timetable of 2008/09 mentioned only a once-weekly shipping service between Al Mukha in Yemen and Djibouti with 30 to 36 hours traveling time.
Yemen, Bab el Mandeb Strait (WS)
Sinai, near Ras Mohammed (WS)