Saudi Arabia: Investment and Maritime Risks During “Corona”

Samar Faisal- Saudi Journalist

The cruise ship named “Silver Sea Spirit”, launched by Saudi Arabia, took it’s first trip in history, from the port of King Abdullah Economic City, north of Jeddah, but then turned back quickly on its third and final day, due to a suspected case of “Coronavirus” on board.

The suspected case was isolated in a designated spot, according to the statement issued by the captain of the ship, which was distributed to the ship’s passengers, who occupy about 75 percent of its capacity of 600 people. The majority of the passengers are Saudi influential figures on social media and various other media platforms. Thus, Saudi Arabia’s experience in launching the cruise trips in the time of “Coronavirus” has been rendered useless, but it will definitely continue to launch these cruises as long as there are passengers!

Last May, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced that the Saudi Public Investment Fund had acquired shares worth more than 7 billion dollars from well-known European and American companies, in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis and its economic consequences. The Fund however, eliminated acquisition of some of these shares later in August. Among these companies is the American Carnival Company specializing in maritime transport, in which 8.2 percent of its shares were acquired, in clear defiance of global concerns about the tourism sector, especially cruise ships. This became problematic later, after recording a case of “Coronavirus” on board some of these ships, forcing them to wander the seas for a few days in search of a port that would agree to receive them!

In an exceptional step that contradicted the global approach regarding the application of Corona precautionary measures, Saudi Arabia announced its intention to launch these domestic cruises along its western coasts. The cruise was scheduled to depart from the King Abdullah Port in the Economic City north of Jeddah, and the trip would continue for a period of three (or four) days. Prices started from $ 1,800 per person, and the amount paid would cover the value of accommodation and food only, without including fees for participation in the events held on board the ship, including all it’s theatrical and entertainment shows.

Saudi Arabia was one of the first Arab countries to adopt strict precautionary measures coinciding with the start of the global state of confusion due to the outbreak of “Coronavirus”, and its declaration as a global pandemic. The Two Holy Mosques were closed, and prayer in mosques was suspended for about 70 days. However, observers believe that Saudi Arabia had adopted strict precautionary measures before the outbreak of the virus in the country, and that it subsequently rushed to open its doors and restore normalcy despite the high numbers of “Coronavirus” cases in the country. This applies to the decision to launch the cruise trips, while the number of “Coronavirus” cases in the country was still high, and “had exceeded 300 thousand cases.”

Among the package of precautionary measures adopted by Saudi Arabia are the closure of its land, air and sea borders and the suspension of its international flights until this day. After Saudi Arabia launched flights to bring its citizens back to the country in the midst of the “Coronavirus” crisis in the spring of 2020, today it is preventing its citizens from traveling abroad except with permission from the authorities and in exceptional cases only. This has led students and employees to complain that they feel at risk that their studies will be affected, or that they will lose their jobs due to their absence. Between forced domestic tourism and the closure of borders to citizens and residents, it is believed that Saudi Arabia is trying to recycle funds internally to meet the economic challenges that the world is expecting to endure, while some criticize this step and believe that the recycling of funds is useless amidst lost investments and a primarily consumer country.

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