Safaga is Arabic for ‘hot dusty winds’ that frequently blow up the Red Sea and stir up the black or yellow sand dune beaches. It is a ‘rough and ready’ industrial and ferry town with a port sheltered by an offshore island measuring eight kilometres long and 3.5 kilometres wide at its widest point. The view from the Port Harbour Office is of this offshore Safaga Island, with the approach channel to the port used by ships only in daylight when the coastal reefs are clearly visible with the Light House at a distance of 1.6 miles on the southern coastal headland of Safaga Island. Safaga Island is a restricted military zone and not accessible to tourists.
The Port of Safaga is administered by the Red Sea Port Authority of Egypt, which also administers the Ports of Suez, Hurghada, Sharm El Sheikh and Nuweiba. Safaga is located 33 miles south of Hurghada and 110 miles south of Suez, with Nuweiba on the west side of the Gulf of Aqaba, and Sharm El Sheikh at the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba. The Port of Safaga has important exports of phosphates, and imports of alumina, wheat, cement, project cargo and general cargo. The port is also an important ferry port for travellers to Duba, Yanbu and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Most readers will remember Safaga as the port that Michael Palin was delayed by a day or two when his booked ferry to Jeddah was cancelled due to engine trouble. He then missed a sea connection from Jeddah to the Persian Gulf, and he was forced to drive himself without the camera crew on the hot roads across Saudi Arabia via Riyadh to catch a dhow at Dubai to continue his ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’
HISTORY OF SAFAGA
The Greek historian Herodotus said that Egypt was ‘the gift of the Nile Valley’ as the fertile irrigated valley has 99% of the population of Egypt on only 4% of the land area of Egypt. Pharaoh Sahure used Safaga as a base for exploration and trade in the Red Sea over 4,000 years ago. Since then, volcanic activity has been slowly widening the Red Sea, to an amount of around 300 feet in 4,000 years. At the southern end of the Red Sea at the very narrow sea gap of Bab al Mandab, volcanic activity associated with the tectonic plates at the north end of the Great Rift Valley are pulling Egypt and Saudi Arabia apart. Three new volcanic islands of several hundred feet in height have been created in the Zubair archipelago recently in 2007, 2011 and 2013 to the north of the Bab al Mandab.
The Port of Safaga lies on the coastal Red Sea with a population of only 38,000 and lies in the Eastern Desert of Egypt, which rises steeply from the Nile valley to a bare, broken plateau, and then slopes upwards to a high mountain range, the Red Sea Hills rising to 7,150 feet in height, which border the Red Sea. The Western Desert of Egypt lies to the west of the Nile valley and is larger than the Eastern Desert at around 240,000 square miles, and contains several oases and large scoured depressions e.g. the Qattara depression which is 436 feet below sea level. The Nile runs for 746 miles from the Aswan High Dam in the south to the Mediterranean delta, with two main branches at Damietta and Rosetta, with large quantities of cotton grown in the delta.
The Port of Safaga lies on the arc of a wide bay sheltered by Safaga Island. It has large imports of alumina for transfer to the MISR Aluminium Company plant on the banks of the Nile in Southern Egypt. Electricity is needed in large quantities to smelt aluminium from the turbines of the Aswan High Dam, with the first pot line opened in 1975 of 92 cells, which has risen to a current six pot lines of 552 cells to give a production of 320,000 tonnes of aluminium per year. Aluminium ingots, slabs, billets, coils, wire and bars are then exported.
The construction of the Aswan High Dam began in 1960 with a loan of Soviet finance of $1.12 billion at 2% interest and was completed ten years later in 1970. The Russian President Nikita Kruschev and President Nasser of Egypt attended a special ceremony on 14th May 1964 when the Nile was diverted away from its channel to begin the construction of the dam, which is the largest embankment dam in the world. Safaga is considered as one of the oldest ports in Egypt, beginning with the export of phosphate ores in 1911 from this Red Sea port. The port is an important phosphates export centre, with numerous phosphate mines nearby, and the paved A60 road of 102 miles to Qena in Upper Egypt to reach many more phosphate mines. It served a useful purpose for the Allies in World War II, and is also a focal base and point for the Egyptian Navy to carry out the tasks in securing the east side of Egypt since the devastating Arab/Israeli Wars of the 1960s and 1970s.
Islamic pilgrims for Jeddah to see and worship at the Great Mosques of Mecca sail from Safaga, with the ferry port having room for six ferries at any one time, all moored stern first in the usual ‘Mediterranean Moor’ style to the quay. Ferries also leave for Duba and Yanbu in Saudi Arabia, as well as international trade to Sudan and other African countries and to ports in South East Asia and Australia. The new Ferry Terminal 3 has been built at Safaga close to the Port Headquarter Office with construction costing £15 million and was ongoing from 2007. Safaga is the main port for the Upper Egypt region, with a growing international cruise ship clientele, who undertake the three and one half hour hot coach trip on the A60 road to visit the Temple of Karnak, the Temple of Hatshepsut, the Valley of the Kings, and the Valley of the Queens. The Temple of Karnak at Luxor is a vast site consisting of three main temples, several smaller enclosed temples, and a number of outer temples. This site was built over a period of 1,300 years before Christ and includes some of the finest examples of ancient Egyptian design and architecture.
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