Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Bab-el-Mandeb

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From volume III of the work.
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BAB-EL-MANDEB, that is, the Gate of Tears, is the strait between Arabia and Abyssinia which connects the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean. It derives its name from the dangers attending its navigation, or, according to an Arabic legend, from the numbers who were drowned by the earth quake which separated Asia and Africa. The distance across is about 20 miles, from Ras Menheli on the Arabian coast to Ras Seyan on the African. The island of Perim, a black and desolate rock, about 4½ miles long by 2 broad, and rising to a height of 240 feet, divides the strait into two channels, of which the eastern and most frequented, known as the Bab Iskender (Alexander's Strait), is not more than 4 miles wide, and varies in width from 7 to 14 fathoms, while the western, or Dact-el-Mayun, has a width of about 15 miles and a depth of 180 fathoms. Near the African coast lie a group of smaller islands known as the Seven Brothers. There is usually a surface outflow from the Red Sea, but a strong under-current must set inwards to compensate not only for this, but for the loss occasioned by the great evaporation. (See Carpenter's "Further Inquiries" in J. R. Geog. S., 1874.) In the end of the 18th century (1799) the island of Perim was taken possession of by the British and held as a military outpost, so to speak, of the Indian empire. They again asserted their right to it in 1857, and in 1861 a lighthouse was built at Straits Point, at the eastern extremity of the island. The harbour is accessible and commodious, and the position gives complete command of the Red Sea.