When one thinks of Saudi Arabia, rarely does one immediately think of Yanbu. Why? Yanbu is known as an industrial and port city located in Medinah province about 350 kilometers north of Jeddah. Yanbu is the western terminus of parallel pipelines that carry liquefied natural gas and oil across nearly 1300 km (nearly 800 mi) of desert and mountains. The town is a growing industrial center with three large oil refineries, a petrochemical complex, and a large desalination plant. Industries using gas and oil as raw materials make a variety of consumer products, including plastics. Yanbu is connected with the rest of the country by a modern highway system. It also has an airport, a large commercial port, and a naval base. As a result, it is not surprising to hear that there are a large percentage of expats who live and work in and around Yanbu.
Of further significance is that in 1975 the Saudi government chose Yanbu and Al Jubayl, a small town on the Persian Gulf coast, to be developed as modern industrial cities. Both play a central role in diversifying Saudi Arabia’s economic base so that the country is not dependent solely on crude oil exports.
The new Industrial City of Yanbu was planned as the spearhead for the modernization of the whole of Saudi Arabia’s rural northwestern coastal region. It would also provide a new strategic outlet on Red Sea shipping lanes, to handle most of the Kingdom’s sea-borne trade. Planners envisaged a city with housing and lifestyle facilities second to none, and an urban population, which would exceed 100,000 by the year 2020. The Royal Commission planned 14 neighborhoods, or residential districts in the new city, which was to be known as “Yanbu Industrial City” (Madinat Yanbu Al-Sinaiyah).
After an initial injection of government money, the strategy was to provide incentives for increasing private investment. The Royal Commission sought to achieve this by the establishment of functioning primary and support industries, and by building an attractive residential environment for both management and workforce. The Commission’s first priority was therefore to establish a physical infrastructure, capable of supplying the needs of this growing urban community.
The city of Yanbu epitomizes practicality, efficiency and respect for tradition, and represents one of Saudi Arabia’s supreme achievements.
Yanbu is not only about its industries. Recreation plays an important role in communities like Yanbu consisting mostly of young people. To satisfy residents’ leisure and recreation needs, the Royal Commission has developed a wide variety of recreation facilities, conveniently located throughout the city.
Residential areas, for example, are inter-spersed with playgrounds, parks and football fields. More specialized facilities, such as tennis and squash courts, gymnasiums and swimming pools are located in large sports centers. These facilities serve the entire community and are sometimes used for inter-city and national events.
To help people develop their minds and pursue cultural interests, the Royal Commission has provided a broad spectrum of facilities, including museum, libraries, auditoriums, and assembly halls. The latter are used for such events as lectures, conferences, folkloric and theatrical shows and exhibitions.
With beautiful waterfronts nearby, it is not surprising that sailing, fishing and other water sports are popular at Yanbu. The city operates a marina and has developed stretches of beachfront for swimming and picnicking.
A favorite pasttime of many Yanbu residents, expats and Saudis alike is “Yanbu diving” off of the Red Sea. The main scuba diving location is an empty beach located north of Yanbu’s creek.
The reef consists of a steeply sloping wall in most places that goes down to around 100 feet or more before reaching a less steeply sloped sandy bottom. Occasionally there are sandy shelves at between 70 and 30 feet. There are many cavern-like structures in the shallow areas at the top of the wall, but don’t go very far back.
The site known as Barracuda Beach and Coral Gardens have always been the favorite. Barracuda Beach is a deep area where barracuda are known to congregate, as well as tuna, sharks and other larger fish. Coral Gardens is a shallow area of sloping sand where corals bloom beautifully and the current can be extremely swift. At the reef edge, it’s about 15 feet deep, great for ending the dive.
The Royal Commission Diving Center in Yanbu is one of the community’s oldest civic-minded recreational organizations. Its members are dedicated to preserving the natural wonder and ecology of the Red Sea reefs, in keeping with their motto “Take only pictures – leave no footprints”.
The Diving Center started out in 1980 as a club formed by a small group of expatriate divers, who had come to Yanbu as engineers and construction workers. They knew that the nearby Red Sea reefs were among the best diving sites in the world. Fortunately, some of those early members were qualified instructors, who began to pass their knowledge on the other club members.
By the mid 1980s, the club had achieved recognition by the Saudi Government and had received several commendations for community services. Rescue divers and instructors were being called upon to search for victims of flash flood and drowning. During holiday periods, rescue divers worked with the Frontier Forces, patrolling certain swimming and boating areas. As a result of these activities, the organization places great emphasis on training in emergency rescue procedures, underwater extrication and resuscitation both at sea and on the land.
The Yanbu Diving Center has a long and distinguished record of community service, of which its members are justifiably proud.
If your appetite has been whet to learn even more information about Yanbu, its history and what to see and do, I encourage you to visit this link.