The Turkish cruise company Ay Cruise is planning to launch new cruise itineraries from Istanbul in Turkey to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, so that passengers can undertake the Umrah pilgrimage by ship.
The new Istanbul-Jeddah cruise itineraries will be launched in 2023, providing greater access to Istanbul for cruise passengers in the Muslim World, while also giving Turkish passengers the opportunity to combine Umrah with a cruise.
The new cruise itineraries will be conducted under halal (Muslim approved) tourism standards, the company added.
“We’re planning to start umrah journeys via ship by 2023,” Ay Cruise CEO Cetin Ay told Anadolu Agency.
“With the Istanbul-Jeddah voyage, many people from the Muslim world will come to Istanbul and have the opportunity to go to umrah by ship,” he added. “They will be able to do both a cruise ship voyage and umrah.”
The move will bolster Turkey’s growing cruise sector recovery, which was hammered by the terrorists attacks in 2016, but is now staging a strong rebound following the opening of the new Galataport cruise terminal in Istanbul.
Ay said the new cruise itineraries have been a long time in planning, coinciding with the opening of Saudi Arabia to cruise tourism.
“We’ve been developing this project for a year-and-a-half. In 2023, our Istanbul-Jeddah tours will start under halal (Muslim approved) tourism,” he said.
“During the Ottoman era, visits were made to the holy land by train. So this has been an unfulfilled desire for me,” he added.
The cruise from Istanbul to Jeddah will take around 7 days, with passengers that have fulfilled their umrah or hajj pilgrimages being able to book a full roundtrip itinerary that returns to Istanbul.
Those who wish to undertake the pilgrimage will be able to disembark in Jeddah.
Umrah is a voluntary pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims can perform at any time of the year. They were suspended in February 2020 due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Saudi Arabia has limited the hajj to domestic pilgrims for the past two years due to the pandemic. A total of 60,000 pilgrims performed hajj last year compared to around 2.5 million in 2019.
The pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest site, the Kaaba in the city of Mecca, is one of the five pillars of Islam. A Muslim is required to perform the hajj at least once if they have the means.
Jeddah is Saudi Arabia’s primary port city on the Red Sea, while Mecca lies around an hour by car inland. However, Saudi Arabia has also developed a high-speed rail line that runs between the two cities in around 45 minutes.