Saudi Arabia set to add 55 new ships to maritime transport fleet

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Saudi Arabia is to add 55 new ships to its maritime transport fleet as part of a raft of initiatives to boost the sector, officials revealed on Thursday. (Supplied)
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Saudi Arabia is to add 55 new ships to its maritime transport fleet as part of a raft of initiatives to boost the sector, officials revealed on Thursday. (Supplied)
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Saudi Arabia is to add 55 new ships to its maritime transport fleet as part of a raft of initiatives to boost the sector, officials revealed on Thursday. (Supplied)
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Saudi Arabia is to add 55 new ships to its maritime transport fleet as part of a raft of initiatives to boost the sector, officials revealed on Thursday. (Supplied)
Updated 08 November 2019

Saudi Arabia set to add 55 new ships to maritime transport fleet

  • Fareed Al-Qahtani, vice chairman responsible for maritime transport at the Saudi Public Transport Authority (PTA), said the Kingdom was supporting global efforts to protect the environment
  • He said that it is also supporting efforts to increase the number of women working in the sector

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia is to add 55 new ships to its maritime transport fleet as part of a raft of initiatives to boost the sector, officials revealed on Thursday.
Fareed Al-Qahtani, vice chairman responsible for maritime transport at the Saudi Public Transport Authority (PTA), said the Kingdom was also supporting global efforts to protect the environment, reduce marine pollution and increase the number of women working in the sector.
He was speaking on the sidelines of the international Sustainable Maritime Development Conference Towards 2030 and Beyond, being held in Jeddah.
Al-Qahtani said: “Fifty-five new ships will be added to the Saudi fleet of 368 ships. The Kingdom has 10 of the largest carriers in the world and is part of 40 international conventions issued by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
“These conventions positively impacted the Kingdom’s maritime transport sector, which reflects its commitment to the IMO’s decisions. They support the national economy by improving the safety of Saudi ships, protecting the Kingdom’s beaches from pollution, raising the efficiency of workers on board and facilitating navigation.
“Two colleges for maritime studies were accredited, which will help make up for the lack of qualified maritime cadres in this vital sector. The Kingdom issued maritime certificates of competency for the first time in 2019 according to the highest scientific and operational standards,” he added.
“The Kingdom supports efforts to protect the environment and reduce marine pollution. This issue, along with the protection of natural resources and sustainable development, are at the heart of the Kingdom’s National Transformation Program.
“As a result, the Kingdom’s beaches are pollution-free despite the fact that 13 percent of global shipping traffic passes through the Red Sea.”
Al-Qahtani noted that the empowerment of women was one of the IMO’s main goals. “Saudi women are present in the maritime transport sector, with the first Saudi female naval officer having just graduated.
“The large participation in the conference contributes to the establishment of international partnerships through the IMO, the exchange of experience, knowledge and information among experts and achieves the highest proportion of direct cooperation.
“The Kingdom has made qualitative leaps in maritime transport in terms of ship registration and cargo tonnage. Tonnage doubled between 2017 and 2018 to reach 8 million tons and is expected to reach 9 million tons by the end of 2019,” he added. 


Remembering the siege of Makkah

Updated 19 November 2019

Remembering the siege of Makkah

  • Forty years ago, a group of armed fanatics led by Juhayman Al-Otaibi were primed for an assault that would cast a long, regressive shadow over Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH:  In November 1979, the Middle East was already on a knife edge. In Iran, a liberal monarchy that had ruled for almost four decades had just been overthrown by a fundamentalist theocracy preaching a return to medieval religious values that many feared would pollute and destabilize the entire region.

For the citizens of Saudi Arabia, however, the greatest shock was yet to come. The sacrilegious storming of the Grand Mosque in Makkah by armed fanatics that month sent shockwaves through the entire Islamic world.

Murder and mayhem erupted in the very heart of Islam, perpetrated by a reactionary sect determined to overthrow the Saudi government and convinced that one among their number was the Mahdi, the redeemer of Islam whose appearance, according to the hadith, heralds the Day of Judgment. 

Ahead lay two weeks of bitter, bloody fighting as Saudi forces fought to reclaim the Holy Haram for the true faith, but that battle was merely the overture to a war for the very soul of Islam in the Kingdom.

Open, progressive and religiously tolerant, Saudi Arabia was about to travel back in time. Only now, as the Kingdom pushes forward into a new era of transparency and modernization, can the full story of the siege of Makkah and the regressive shadow it would cast over the country for the next 40 years finally be told.

As the citizens of Makkah and those pilgrims who had remained behind after Hajj saw out the final hours of Dhu Al-Hijjah, the 12th and final month of the Islamic calendar, and prepared to greet the year 1400 in prayer within the precincts of the Grand Mosque, a few inconspicuous pickup trucks slipped unchallenged into it through an entrance used by construction workers under the Fatah Gate, on the north side of the mosque.

The trucks and the men who drove them were there at the bidding of Juhayman Al-Otaibi, a disaffected former corporal in the Saudi National Guard.

As a firebrand at the head of a small group of religious students based in a small village outside Madinah, Juhayman had been on the radar of the authorities for some time. According to Prince Turki Al-Faisal, who in 1979 was the head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate, the group consisted of students from various religious seminaries who had put their faith in the eschatological figure of the Mahdi, the supposed redeemer of Islam. 

“Their aim, according to their beliefs, was to liberate the Grand Mosque from the apostate rulers of the Kingdom and to liberate all Muslims by the coming of the so-called Mahdi,” Prince Turki said in an interview with Arab News.

Juhayman and his group were set on a path that would lead to tragedy, reaching out to potential recruits both inside and outside the Kingdom. “Through their correspondence and preaching, they managed to recruit a few individuals,” Prince Turki said. 

Juhayman Al-Otaibi after his capture following the end of the seige. (AFP)

One temporary recruit was the Saudi writer Abdo Khal, who in 2010 won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for his novel “Throwing Sparks.” In an interview in 2017 with MBC television, he said that when he was 17 he was one of Juhayman’s men and had even helped to spread the group’s ideology by distributing leaflets.

“It’s true, I was going to be part of one of the groups that was going to enter the Haram,” he said and, were it not for the intervention of his elder sister, he might have found himself among those who were to seize the Grand Mosque. 

“I was supposed to move out to (a mosque) where our group was gathering. We were supposed to be in seclusion at the mosque for three days, and we were supposed to leave with Juhayman on the fourth day.”

But his sister stopped him going to the rendezvous point, on the ground that he was too young to be sleeping away from home for three nights. Almost certainly, she saved his life. “And then, on the fourth day, the horrendous incident happened.” 

Writer Mansour Alnogaidan was only 11 years old when the siege happened, but like many Saudis of his generation, he felt the tug of various Salafi groups in his youth.

Now general manager of Harf and Fasela Media, which operates counter-terrorism websites, he has done extensive research on the Makkah siege.

Alnogaidan says there were a number of possible reasons behind the 1979 incident, including an existing idea in the mind of Juhayman and his group that they were the successors of a Bedouin movement by the name of “Ikhwan-men-taa-Allah.”

“Some believed they had a vendetta against the Saudi government,” he said in an interview with Arab News. “Another issue was essentially the personal desires of certain people (such as Juhayman) who sought power and control. He wanted to satisfy something inside him.”

Alnogaidan added: “Also, we must not forget that this incident came after the Khomeini revolution in Iran, which had an influence even though not a direct one.”

Juhayman and his group were on the radar of the security services. Over time, recalled Prince Turki, “there were many attempts by authorized religious scholars in the Kingdom to rectify the group’s beliefs by discussion, argument and persuasion.” 

Occasionally individuals were taken in for questioning by the authorities “because they were considered to be potentially disruptive to society. Once they were taken in, however, they always gave affidavits and signed assurances that they would not continue with the preaching and so on.”

But “once they were released, of course, they returned to their previous ways.”

At some point in the closing months of the 13th Islamic century, Juhayman’s group identified one of their number, Juhayman’s brother-in-law Mohammed Al-Qahtani, as the Mahdi.

In the early hours of Tuesday, Nov. 20, 1979, as the inhabitants of Makkah and the pilgrims who had lingered after Hajj gravitated toward the Grand Mosque for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the dawning of a new century in Islam’s holiest place, the stage was set for the most unholy of outrages.

Carrying firearms within the Grand Mosque was strictly forbidden; even the guards were armed only with sticks. An armed assault on the precincts of the mosque — on the sacred values it enshrined for the world’s two billion Muslims — was unthinkable.

But on the first day of the Islamic new year of 1400, the unthinkable happened.

 

Juhayman: 40 years on
On the anniversary of the 1979 attack on Makkah's Grand Mosque, Arab News tells the full story of an unthinkable event that shocked the Islamic world and cast a shadow over Saudi society for decades
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