Eritrea beckons fun-loving Saudi men

Three years after splitting from Ethiopia, a new nation is making its mark, as Richard Dowden discovers

THE Nobile is not the first thing that catches your eye as you drive across the causeway to the Eritrean port of Massawa. You are more likely to notice the funnels or prows of sunken wrecks sticking out of the bay. Or the battered and rusting tanks which stand at the end of the causeway. Or even the shell holes blasted in the sides of the warehouses.

Yet when you reach the harbour - many of its buildings amazingly rebuilt from the rubble of war nearly five years ago - you suddenly catch sight of the sleek white hull of a magnificent schooner which looks as if it has sailed straight out of an advert for a Caribbean luxury cruise.

Maurizio Pazzelli, the equally elegant captain of the Nobile, sails her regularly to the Dahlak islands, taking a dozen tourists 30 miles to some of the finest scuba diving in the world. The magnificent corals and exotic sea-life owe their survival to the fact that the islands were a Soviet naval base for more than 20 years, closed off to all other visitors. The only inhabitants are a few fishermen and their families who manage to survive the high saline content of the island's scant fresh water.

But Captain Pazzelli is not the only one to see the tourism potential of the islands. An American company, Development Concepts, signed a contract with the Eritrean government last month to develop a huge leisure and pleasure complex on the islands with several hotels, casinos, a marina, golf course and equestrian centre.

The target of the resort - less than 45 minutes' flying time from Mecca - will be wealthy Saudis in search of pleasures forbidden at home. The resort is built round an enclosed bay eight miles across with a marina for more than 100 boats. Alongside a five-star hotel, the holiday village will offer villas at $3,000 a night.

Many wealthy Saudis take their wives and families on holiday with them but confine them to their hotels - often hiring a whole floor for months to avoid exposing them to Western ways. Here there will be a separate, self-contained hotel for women and children, staffed entirely by women ... located some miles from the main resort, the intention clearly being that the men can deposit their wives while they pursue their own interests elsewhere.

The pounds 135m project is the brainchild of a Texan contractor, BK Anderson, who has worked in the region for many years and is close to the new Eritrean government. Work is expected to begin shortly, as the two-mile-long Soviet built airstrip is paved. A power station is already built, and water will be provided by a new desalination plant.

Mr Anderson aims to open for New Year, 1999. The Eritrean government will take 40 per cent of the gross revenue of the resort. In return, it will guarantee the loan for the new infrastructure and provide security. But the project is unlikely to be universally acclaimed. While the ruling Saudi family may turn a blind eye to the project, it is expected to provide ammunition for Islamic fundamentalists as well as attracting criticism from environmentalists.

In the region itself, the plan has been dubbed as "impudent" by some observers. The Eritreans are among the poorest people in the world. Their neighbours, the Saudis, just across the Red Sea, are some of the richest. It is not yet three years since the Eritreans split from Ethiopia after defeating the Ethiopian army in 1991. But the new country has shown a remarkable degree of aggression in asserting its rights in the region, seizing 14 Egyptian fishing boats in its waters last year, and in December seizing one of the Hanish islands further down the Red Sea from Yemen.

While some suggest that Eritrea's motive for taking the islands may be to do with offshore oil and fishing rights, others point out that Yemen recently granted an Italian company the concession to develop the island - as a tourist resort.

8 Richard Dowden is on the staff of the 'Economist'

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices