Cairo - Splitting the Red Sea water leaving behind a wide foamy white line, speedy La Pespes 300-passenger ferry is inaugurated in a ceremonial voyage with the Egyptian tourism minister and the Red Sea governor on board to be the first in five years to connect the Red Sea resort cities of Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh.
The first cruise of the air-conditioned ferry carried over 200 people who enjoyed the view of the calm sea while the ferry is leaving Hurghada and heading northeast to Sharm El-Sheikh, covering a distance of 52 nautical miles (over 96km) only in two hours.
“The voyage is very nice, especially that it cuts short a long time compared to land transport, which I think promotes tourism as it saves visitors' time who could go from Hurghada to spend a night in Sharm El-Sheikh and come back in a few hours,” Marwa Kasim, a 40-year-old Egyptian physician who works in Kuwait and came to Hurghada with her family for vacation, told Xinhua onboard La Pespes.
The lady continued that the trip is so attractive for her children and expected the ferryboat to be a luring means of transport for internal tourists as well as foreign visitors. Egypt has been struggling to survive a sharp tourism recession over the past few years due to political turmoil.
The situation further deteriorated due to the Russian plane crash in Sinai that killed over 200 in October last year, an Italian student's death from torture in Cairo in early February and a tragic fall of an EgyptAir flight in May that killed all 66 people on board. Marecella Zunini, an Italian woman working for an Italian travel agency, was on board the ferry when she said that such voyages appeal much to foreigners and that facilitating means of transport and communication for visitors is vital for promoting tourism in Egypt. “It is easier and cheaper than flights and other means of transport and Westerners in general like sea trips, so I think such ferries will be popular and successful,” the Italian lady told Xinhua, hoping for the return of bigger ferries where passengers could take their vehicles aboard.
Tourism recession represented a blow to the Egyptian economy as it is one of the main sources of national income and foreign currency reserves in Egypt, with about 4 million Egyptians used to be working in the industry.
In 2010 alone, it brought Egypt about $13-billion as over 14.7 million tourists visited the country. The number of visitors kept falling until it reached 9.3 million in 2015 with 6.1 billion dollars in revenues.
The last ferry that moved between Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh stopped mostly due to recession over security issues following the 2011 uprising the toppled former long-time president Hosni Mubarak.
Passengers of all ages, including high school and fresh university students, liked to move sometimes from the 250-seat first floor to the 54-seat shady roof to enjoy the fresh air while seeing slight waves playing with the sides of the boat.
“It's a nice trip to tell you the truth. It's faster than the bus. At the same time, you can watch the sea, the mountains and other beautiful views on the way. It's a kind of change,” Mohamed Turki, a 20-year-old student at an engineering college, told Xinhua as the ferry was close to Shadwan rocky island southwest of Sharm El-Sheikh.
“Instead of choosing between Hurghada and Sharm El-Shiekh for a vacation, people can move between both through such ferries, and I know a lot of people who will be so interested to do that,” the young man added.
La Pespes is provided with various means to ensure passengers' safety including lifejackets, life-rafts, lifebuoy with light and smoke, etc, with a safety inspector on board to make sure everything runs smoothly. Its voyages start with a video clip on safety instructions displayed on the ferry monitors.
“In case of any serious problem, a distress signal can be sent to the naval authorities and they can show up in no time, as we're cutting the sea width and the distance is not so big,” ferry safety inspector Mahfouz Mohamed told Xinhua, noting another ferry is currently being tried and will be added to service so soon.
Red Sea Governor Ahmed Abdullah said that there are tourists who come to Hurghada and may like to go to Sharm El-Sheikh or Saint Catherine in South Sinai or vice versa. “The land transport takes long, so we thought about this two-hour trip that enables them to back and forth on the same day.”
“Providing suitable land, air or sea means of transport is a basic factor for promoting and stabilising tourism,” the governor told Xinhua on board La Pespes.