Captain Jonathan Mercer
An arrival at Safaga, 12 hours ahead of schedule, having made a fast passage from Mumbai, India. This to cross the challenging Somali pirate area which includes the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden and parts of the Red Sea. We had a calm crossing, hardly a wave to be seen and made good speed. We used the ITTC, (Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor) for the Gulf of Aden stretch, this is patrolled by multi-national warships and has a convoy system for the slower vessels.
Because we arrived earlier than originally scheduled, there was no berth immediately available for us in Safaga, so we anchored for the afternoon and evening. Many guests had taken advantage of the early arrival and booked an ‘overnight’ stay in Luxor, fabled home of the valley of the Kings and so we tendered them ashore and then waited for a berth to become vacant. This occurred about 7 p.m. when a bulk-carrier, which had been discharging wheat, completed the cargo work and left the space available for us; berthed by 8 p.m. we were ready for an early start the next morning, hundreds of our guests taking the Valley of the Kings excursion.
We were scheduled to sail at midnight, however did not do so until 1 a.m., the returning tours were delayed and we had some tired but happy guests eventually make it back. Departing late resulted in a dash across the Red Sea to Sharm-El-Sheik, a resort town on the tip of the Sinai Peninsular. Here we were thwarted yet again, another cruise ship had changed her schedule, arriving a day earlier and as a consequence we did not have a berth, (again). The weather was perfect and so we spent our call ‘hovering’ on joystick right in the harbour, not far from the ship that had taken our berth. This way, I could shorten the tender-ride for our guests and disembark more, quickly. All went well and the time passed quickly, we had a 1 p.m. departure, (a short stay) and then it was off towards the Suez canal.
The normal procedure for a canal transit is that a vessel has to ‘register’ with the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) when passing a certain point, in this case, a latitude. Once one has done so, one is given permission to proceed to a designated anchorage, where one will be boarded by Immigration officials, Agents and all types of superfluous people. The mooring gangs, (in case one needs them), arrive by boat and these are hauled up alongside, using cranes. Garbage boats and numerous others surround the Amsterdam, desperate for business and politeness doesn’t work with these guys, one has to be quite ‘forthright’ in one’s grammar…
We are told that we are going in as #1 on the north-bound convoy and to be ready, with our anchor ‘heaved short’ at 4:15 a.m. We did so, however this is Egypt of course and no pilot appeared until 5 a.m. We then headed in through the buoyed channel towards the entrance to the canal proper, at Suez.
Here the pilots changed, the 1st one having done absolutely nothing, but expecting a ‘souvenir’ before he left. This was common throughout, no matter whose service was supplied (and paid for), all wanted ‘souvenirs’ and it became extremely annoying, by the end of the day I became very short with anyone who dared to ask. (Our guest experience in Egypt was much the same, taxi drivers, port security guards, you name it, they all tried the ‘shakedown’, it became thoroughly obnoxious and we were all pleased to see the last of Egypt astern of us).
Having passed Suez at 6 a.m. we weaved our way through the Canal, followed by approximately 20 ships of different shapes and sizes.
The Egyptian side was irrigated, populated and verdant. No further than 200 metres, the Sinai side was deserted, nothing but sand for miles, still littered with wreckage from the Yom Kippur war.
Army ouposts were on both sides, every 1/2 mile or so. We passed the Egyptian memorial for the fallen in their wars, a strange design, it represented the barrel of a gun, sticking out of the ground, with a bayonet fixed on it.
Eventually, at last, by 4 p.m. we were off Port Said, and we could disembark all our officials and set speed and courses for Piraeus, Greece, which is from where I write. Piraeus and her hinterland have a great deal to offer by way of tours, not only in the city itself, but to places such as ancient Corinth and Mycenae, historical places.