The overall direction of the the Red Sea is influenced by the monsoons in the Indian Ocean. From November until April, while the NE monsoon is blowing, water is pushed into the Red Sea and there is a predominantly N to NW setting current along the axis of the Red Sea. From May until October, when the SW monsoon prevails over the Indian Ocean, water is drawn out of the Red Sea and a S to SE setting current prevails. Due to the narrowness and shape of the Red Sea, there is a great variability in the currents and many lateral currents run in and out from the main stream, particularly near islands and reefs. These cross-currents occur in all months and are very variable. They are not as strong as was first believed, because many apparent cross-currents were found to be due to errors in astronavigation produced by the refraction effect on the horizon. The strongest current is experienced in the Strait of Bab el Mandeb, reaching 2 knots in the NE monsoon season. In the transitional months between monsoons, April and May, or October, there is little or no current.

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