Red Sea ferry launch precedes Egypt-Saudi talks – Lead

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JEDDAH: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak went to the Saudi port of Jeddah on Friday for the entry into service of two new ferry boats donated to Egypt by the Saudi government.

The ferries will ply the same Red Sea route as an Egyptian vessel which sank two years ago with the loss of 1,000 lives.

The ceremony was followed by talks between Mubarak and Saudi King Abdullah in the shadow of strains on their countries relationship over a court case.

King Abdullah was also present for the ferries launch, which took place shortly after Mubarak s arrival in Jeddah for the brief visit, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

The two Australia-built ferries, called Riyadh and Cairo and each big enough to carry 1,200 people, will operate between Duba in Saudi Arabia and Egypt s Safaga.

It was on this route that Al-Salam 98 sank in February 2006, drowning 1,000 passengers, mostly Egyptians working in Saudi Arabia. The disaster was one of the deadliest in modern maritime history.

In 1991, another Egyptian ferry, Salem Express, sank in the Red Sea en route between Jeddah and Safaga, leading to the loss of nearly 500 lives.

Mubarak and King Abdullah discussed regional and international developments as well as bilateral relations in the light of tension between the two closely allied countries over the treatment of two Egyptian nationals, Saudi state television said.

Raouf Amin and Shawqi Abd-Rabou, two Egyptian doctors working in Saudi Arabia, were sentenced to 1,500 lashes and 15 and 20 years in prison respectively after being found guilty of causing the dependence of a Saudi princess on pain-killer morphine.

The sentences angered the Egyptian government, which on Nov.13 barred Egyptian doctors from taking up private sector jobs in Saudi Arabia.

It lifted the ban on Wednesday following an agreement between Cairo and Riyadh on safeguarding Egyptian workers rights. -AFP

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