Having had kings, queens and dignitaries from all over the world on its decks, the SS Mahroussa makes a comeback over a century after its building as Egypt inaugurates the new Suez Canal.
The SS Mahroussa royal yacht was the first vessel to cross the Suez Canal when it opened in 1869. Joining Khedive Ismail on board was none other than the Empress France and wife of Napoleon III, the Emperor of Austria, the Crown Prince of Germany, among other European Royalty. With that in mind it seemed fitting that President Sisi announced that he too would celebrate the inauguration of the new Canal with world leaders aboard this century old yacht, and since Egypt’s in celebratory mood, we decided to look into the rich history of Egypt’s proudest ship.
Before the inauguration of the Suez Canal, Khedive Ismail commissioned the building of a boat that could compare to the accomplishment of building the Suez Canal in 1863. He enlisted Oliver Lang and the Samuda Brothers of Poplar, London, to construct the massive yacht, to the lead ships in the procession of boats to cross during the inauguration. At the time, the super yacht was considered among the largest, if not the biggest, ship and was the pride of the Egyptian Navy in Alexandria. The five floor super yacht had the capacity to carry 160 crew members and seemed to be used in one of three ways in its history; to entertain world leaders, to exile Egypt’s royalty, and training Egypt’s Navy.
From Khedive Ismail to King Farouk and from President Nasser to President Sisi, all of Egypt’s leaders have found one reason or another to take this prestigious ship out for a spin. Even though it was the oldest armed yacht in the world, the SS Mahroussa wasn’t really used in war, as it was too expensive to risk its demise in battle and better suited for holding important meetings and impressing international guests. Equipped with multiple gardens, cannons, lounges, elevators, and even a garage the massive ship was used during the wedding of King Farouk sister to the Shah of Iran in 1939. The SS Mahroussa is likely the most expensive yacht built of its time and was indicative of Khedive Ismail lavish spending ways which ultimately bankrupted the country shortly thereafter.
As a result of bankrupting the nation Khedive Ismail was forced into exile in 1879 and it came as no surprise to anyone that he would choose to flee to Italy aboard the ship he commissioned. Proving to be the original trendsetter, the SS Mahroussa became the ship of choice for the exiled, as both Khedive Abbas Hilmi II and King Farouk left their country aboard it. The removal of Farouk marked the end of Egypt’s monarchy, and when President Nasser took over in the popular coup, he decided to rename the SS Mahroussa to Al-Horreya, and began training Egypt’s cadettes aboard it. This would continue until about 1974, and when Sadat became president, he loved the ship so much that he returned to using it to hold meetings and entertain world leaders, as well as riding aboard during the reopening of the Suez canal.
Normally, Egypt has the worst track record in terms of performing maintenance, however the SS Mahroussa seemed to be exception as it was split in half and increased by 40 feet in 1872, having its boilers changed in 1894, renewing the engine in 1905, installing a telegraphy in 1912, changing from coal to diesel in 1919, completed renovated in 1952, serviced in 1987, and likely restored for the inauguration of new Suez Canal. Comparing that with how often we renovate our museums, demonstrates just how much Egypt treasured this luxurious and historic vessel. It isn’t clear if or when the ship’s name was changed back from Al-Horreya to SS Mahroussa, however when the news was announced that it would be at the inauguration everyone seemed to revert back to calling it the Mahroussa.
With Egyptian pride at its highest level since the 2011 uprising, it comes as no surprise that President Sisi has decided to mark this impressive accomplishment aboard Egypt’s most important and historic super yacht. The fact that it survived a 150 years is almost as impressive as building a new canal in just a year. The inclusion of the Mahroussa in the festivities is just the icing on already delicious cake and will be a sight that Egyptians won’t soon forget.