More than a century after it first cruised the glittering waters of the Nile, the Steam Ship Sudan draws tourists following the trail of legendary crime novelist Agatha Christie. The SS Sudan, which towers over the traditional wooden sailing boats in Egypt’s southern city of Aswan, inspired the British author sometimes dubbed the “Queen of Crime” to pen one of her most famous works in 1937, Death on the Nile. The whodunnit tells the story of Christie’s famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, investigating murder among the wellheeled travellers as they cruise the Nile.
“Christie’s trip aboard the steamer, the atmosphere and its route inspired her to begin writing the first chapters,” said Amir Attia, the ship’s director. Built for the Egyptian royal family in 1885, and transformed into a cruise liner in 1921, the SS Sudan hosted the novelist with her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan, in 1933.
Among the ship’s 23 rooms and suites, Attia says the writer’s room is still “the most popular”. Passengers are whisked away on Christie’s original itinerary, stopping at the same ancient archaeological sites, albeit with a difference – the liner now runs on diesel and solar power instead of coal. A staff of 67 keeps the vessel shipshape, and a luxury eight day trip, also including stays in two historic hotels, sets travellers back about $4 000 (R60 500) – but there is a long waiting list to stay in the Christie cabin. “There are booking requests for up to two years in advance,” Attia says.
While Egypt’s key tourism industry has been hit hard by Covid-19 restrictions – with revenues slashed by more than a fifth from 2019-2020 – the ship’s staff are insistent the pandemic will not sink the historic vessel. “My product is unique,” Attia says. “Egypt as a tourist destination will never die down.” The SS Sudan has faced crises being abandoned and then repaired a second time in 2000.
Last year, the boat was initially stuck in port – but it started operating as soon as rules allowed. “We immediately got so many reservations that we had to knock a few back because we’re overbooked,” Attia says. Staff hope that Christie’s story can work its magic again to draw new visitors. A big-budget film version – directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh – is due for release later this year.
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