Category Archives: Saudi Arabia

Saudi Bin Ladin Group cuts 100,000 jobs

It has been recently filtered that the major Saudi Arabian construction company, Saudi Bin Ladin Group, has issued 77,000 final exit visas meaning it had terminated 77,000 foreign workers.

Rumors further says that the group is planning to lay off up to 17,000 Saudi nationals, bringing the total number of job cuts to almost 100,000, representing almost half of its workforce.

Contacted by a local newspaper the construction giant replied that “adjusting the size of our manpower is a normal routine especially whenever projects are completed or near completion. Most of the released jobs had initially been recruited for contracted projects with specific time frames and deliverables” as reported by news agency Reuters.

As a matter of fact, Binladin has been under pressure since September last year, when it was suspended from receiving new state contracts after one of its cranes collapsed into Mecca’s Grand Mosque during a dust storm, killing 107 people.

In addition, the company is suffering from low oil prices that have led to government spending cuts to curb a record budget deficit.

As reported by ArabianBusiness, rumors say that Saudi Binladin group owe local and international banks a total of about 30 billion USD.

Freed Sea turtle

The day I rescued a Sea Turtle from a fish trap!

It was a normal Friday in Saudi Arabia when I decided to go to the beach and enjoy the amazing Red Sea Coral Reef with some colleagues. We were well equipped, someone had a water proof camera (myself), someone else fishing gear and pretty much everybody was wearing a snorkel, goggles and suitable shoes to safely walk in a rocky sea.

We were taking funny photo when we noticed that something was violently moving in the shallow water close to us. We were firstly scared, because we thought it could have been a shark or some other dangerous fish, but then we realized it was a Sea Turtle trapped in a fishing net.

We approached the Turtle in an attempt to free it from the fish trap but the turtle wasn’t very happy of our presence. We insisted in pursuing our goal and tried our best to cut the fishing net that was literally strangling the poor marine creature.

Turtle Rescue Operation

The Turtle was very scared and tried to bite us more than once.

It was a complicated job since the turtle was biting and slapping our hands since it was very scared and the fishing net was super resilient. We did not have any cutting tool, hence we had to figure out how to free the turtle without hurting it.

Rescuing a Turtle

The delicate rescuing operation required 20 minutes and 4 people

Once the the first flap was freed, the turtle seemed realize we were helping and stopped being hostile and almost started cooperating with us. After the right flap, we managed to free the left one and then the head with a very delicate operation. The turtle cooperation was important since with a single bite it could have easily chopped off a finger.

The emotion in seeing the turtle free and happy was unique.

Freed Sea turtle

Also thanks to the turtle trust and cooperation, we managed to free it from the net

   As soon as we put it back in the water, it quickly disappeared leaving us proud of our actions.

Who should be ashamed of his misbehaving is the person who abandoned a fishing net in the middle of the coral reef, endangering many wild animals.

Rabigh Coral Reef

Exploring the amazing Coral Reef in Rabigh, Saudi Arabia

If you live and work in a small town in Saudi Arabia as I did for almost 18 months, you will easily understand that there is not much to do except working. The nearest mall with a decent level of shops and restaurants was at 150 km from the town where we were based: Rabigh.

During the weekdays, there was very little time to go around and explore, since we were all knackered and were usually opting for a quick stroll in town or paying a visit at the barber. During the weekends, or better during the Fridays since it was the only day off we have got, we used to explore the neighbouring towns and cities like Masturah, Taif, KAEC and finally Jeddah.

However, we soon realized the best entertainment available was really close to our camp: Rabigh Corniche (promenade) and its amazing Coral Reef. The first time we went to the beach, we understood that there were present a certain number of corals and that the deep sea was few meters away. We did not have the proper tools, like reinforced shoes or snorkel and hence we just took a photo from the edge.

The edge of the Red Sea Coral Reef

The edge of Rabigh coral Reef. The deep sea had a superb blue colour.

During the subsequent week, we went many times to the specialised shop and bought snorkels, shoes, water proof cameras and torches and whatever we thought it could have been useful. finally it came Friday again and we rushed to the beach early in the morning.

Once in the crystal clear water, we discovered a surprisingly alive and colourful environment. Unfortunately, I am going to post only few of the thousands photos I took of many different animals.

Rabigh Coral Reef

Crystal Clear Water and undisturbed wild life in Rabigh Coral Reef.

Rabigh Fish

One of the hundreds different fishes in the Red Sea

Rainbow Butterfly at Rabigh Coral Reef

The Rainbow Butterfly Fish is one of my favourite.

Red Sea corals

Corals are everywhere and of every shade of colours.

The Giant Clams are really huge. One alone can weight several Kq.

The Giant Clams are really huge. One alone can weight several Kq.

Sea Snake at Rabigh Coral Reef

I thought this was a Sea-Horse, when I realized it was a snake I literally jumped out of the water

  Unfortunately, the photo I have taken of the giant turtle that we rescued from a fishing net was too blurry to be posted.

The coral reef is also the natural habitat of Octopus, a marvellous animal that we studied in an attempt to kill some hours and that we ended up fishing with great success. But this is going to be another story.

The slow but scaring propagation of MERS-CoV in Middle East and Asia

More than one year ago, in March/April 2014 to be precise, I was living and working in Saudi Arabia and was discretely preoccupied for the MERS (Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome) virus that was spreading in the Kingdom. It wasn’t a real breakout, since the daily cases were few, sometimes 1 sometimes 4 or 5. What scared me the most was the fact that the new cases reported were constant, meaning that the virus had a suitable carrier that was perfectly working.

Many associated the Virus with the camels new born season that in effect had caused the previous spike in the daily cases census. The spike had alarmed the international and local authorities that intervened to contain the infection. Saudi Arabia was the origin of the new Corona Virus and it was the Country with the highest number of cases reported.

After several weeks of general hysteria, the situation seemed becoming normal, with very few and isolated cases that seemed to happen just to remind us that the MERS Virus was still among us.

 After a period of relative tranquility, the MERS-CoV suddenly and powerfully appeared in South Korea where it spread and killed many people from May 2015 as reported by BBC News at the beginning of July 2015.

MERS CoV Global Situation Map by World Health Organization - photo from www.who.int

MERS CoV Global Situation Map by World Health Organization – photo from http://www.who.int

After the most recent outbreak, South Korea became one of the most severely hit Countries with hundreds cases that brought the local authorities to preventive quarantine measure for almost 7,000 people (as of end of July) and  provoked a collective fear of a pandemic in the population.

south-korea-mers-scare-wedding-photo

The level of alert in South Korea is so high that this wedding photo was taken with mask. – photo credit in the right corner

Surprisingly enough, concomitant with the recent outbreak in Korea, there has been a re-awakening of the virus even in Saudi Arabia with 22 new reported cases in the past 4 weeks. But while in Saudi we could have linked the presence of the virus to the camel farming activities, I am quite puzzled about its persistent presence in Far East. World Health Organization is strictly monitoring the evolution of the situation.

Saudi Arabia Adventures: a day at Rabigh dam

If you had read Lawrence of Arabia chronicles, you should be acquainted with the hardship of living in the desert and most probably you might remember villages names like Rabigh (or Rabegh) and Masturah. I lived in Rabigh – Saudi Arabia for almost 15 months and explored the surrounding areas during the week ends.

The water reservoir created by the dam

The water reservoir created by the dam from Google Maps

I think that we all know that the Middle East in general and the Arabian Peninsula in particular, is characterized by a desert climate that originated the sandy desert we are used to see in many movies and cartoons. It is true even though we should keep in mind that most of the peninsula is constituted by mountains and rocky hills that make the visitors feeling to be on Mars instead of in Arabia. These rocky and sandy places get quickly colder than the surrounding air soon after the sunset, allowing the humidity present in the air to condensate and hence granting the little wildlife possibly present the chance to survive. These rocky areas have also a very limited capacity to absorb the rain that therefore flows towards the sea, creating the so called ‘wadi’, an Arabic term to indicate a riverbed or intermittent stream.

Rabigh Wadi full of water by AndreaDetto

Rabigh Wadi full of water

For this reason, during the rainy season when it could happen to see the rain 2 or 3 times, the water canalized in the ‘wadi’ flows from the mountains to the sea almost undisturbed. Such a big amount of water, indispensable to allow the wildlife to survive, has been recently trapped in appositely built dams to satisfy the population needs.

One of these dams is located close to Rabigh and I assure you that it is a strange feeling to see this artificial lake laying in the middle of the rocky desert. The dam is a multi-purpose construction that collects rain water assuring: i) flood control; ii) municipal water supply and iii) groundwater recharge, helping the overall system to have significant benefits.

I firstly visited a ‘wadi’ in 2010 during a camping organized in November by some friends, close to the Oman border. I was surprised in noticing that after the several months of summer with hot temperature and no rain at all, the ‘wadi’ still had spots of water here and there and that that water was icily cold!!!

Rabigh Dam by AndreaDetto

Rabigh Dam, a very simple construction

The water control systems now in place in many GCC countries aims to prevent very dangerous flooding (in Jeddah died many people few years ago) and grant water availability during the summer. How this is going to impact the environment and the local ecosystem is quite obvious even though I personally think that it is a less invasive solution if compared to the massive presence of desalinated water being used for multiple purposes.

MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) is still killing in Saudi Arabia. Updated Status.

Originally posted on 26th April 2014

I am currently working in Saudi Arabia and precisely at only 150 km far from Jeddah that is the epicentre of the MERS contagion. When I firstly come here, some 11 months ago, I remember that the media were treating the MERS Virus as a very rare and very difficult to get disease. In two years only 200 people got infected and a third of them passed away mainly because of other chronic serious illnesses.

The MERS-CO V is a coronavirus like SARS, that was most probably originated by the passage from camels to the human beings of the virus. The first recorded case was a 60-year-old male patient with acute pneumonia and acute renal failure, who passed away in Jeddah on June 24, 2012.

Since then the number of new cases were few per month, indicating a very difficult transmission of the virus from human to human as stated by WHO in February 2013: “the risk of sustained person-to-person transmission appears to be very low” (see here).

Mers Cases in Saudi Arabia

Mers Cases in Saudi Arabia

The virus seemed to be vanished or, better, just affecting old and already seriously ill people, when a furious outbreaks hit Saudi Arabia at the beginning of April 2014 when hundred cases were registered in few days.

In the Ministry of Health dedicated website there is a constant and official flow of news about MERS cases and death that helps the people to get informed and aware about the risks that this new fever brings along.

The escalation, as briefly anticipated started the first days of April when some major local newspapers started mentioning MERS with more and more insistence. ArabianBusiness.com published an Article on April 10, 2014 where Staff Writer reported that “eleven new cases were reported in Jeddah in recent weeks, causing a wave of panic fuelled by rumors circulated on social networks.”

On April 20, 2014 ArabianBuisness.com reported a news posted by Reuters where it was stated that “Saudi Arabia has confirmed seven new cases of MERS, adding up to 36 infections in five days, a sudden increase of a disease that kills about a third of the people infected and has no cure”. In the same day Courtney Trenwith posted an article with an eloquent title: “Virus expert says MERS infection prevention, control has “broken downin Saudi Arabia” and the Ministry of Health issued a note confirming 13 new cases (here).

While the people started to be more and more concerned about the spreading of this virus, what could seem a confirmation of the delicate situation in the Kingdom appeared in the newspapers worldwide on April 21, 2014: “Saudi Health Minister Fired Amid Surge in Deadly MERS Virus” as reported by the Wall Street Journal in an article that also quote the local sentiment of some locals interviewed: “It seems that MERS is a much more serious issue than what is being announced.”

Since then it was a continue counting of new infected and death.

From the Saudi Ministry of Health website:

  • April 19, 2014 > 13 new cases
  • April 20, 2014 > 12 new cases
  • April 21, 2014 > 13 new cases
  • April 22, 2014 > 11 new cases
  • April 23, 2014 > 12 new cases
  • April 24, 2014 > 14 new cases

The Saudi Gazette reported in an article dated April 25, 2014 that the new cases discovered in the past 24 hours are 36 mainly located in Jeddah, Riyadh, Makah and Medina (original article here).

Rabigh News – Strange accidents in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Originally posted on May 2014

For those who do not know, currently I am living and working in Saudi Arabia, in a small city named Rabigh, located some 150 km from Jeddah and close to the Red Sea coast. I will detail my stay in Saudi in the next posts, describing the wonders of the Red Sea in this part of the world where tourists are not so common and therefore the wildlife is still rich and uncontaminated (more or less) by the humans bad habits.

However, the first thing that you would notice once in Saudi Arabia is that, notwithstanding the continue presence of Police Patrols and agents, people seem to do not consider much the traffic rules. Short-cuts and speeding are very common and unfortunately increase the accident rates.

As result of this particular driving habit, most recent statistics (read here) show that in 2012 occurred 598,300 accidents, one every 52 seconds with a death rate of one fatality every 96 accidents for a total of around 6000 death per year.

Authorities are implementing an awareness program in order to reduce these dramatic numbers that are ones of the highest in the world.

Well, due to the mentioned mix of mis-behaviors, I have been witnessing many strange accidents, with cars resting in vertical on a lighting pole, cars upside-down in an empty road and the like. However one of the most “spectacular” accident I have seen so far, that luckily did not cause any fatality or even injury, involved one car in an empty road that for unknown reasons instead of braking before turning left, suddenly accelerated crashing against the walkway and literally flew against the wall of a near villa and penetrating it with the front part of the car.

Strange car accidents in Saudi Arabia - luckily no one got injuried
Strange car accidents in Saudi Arabia