The Suez Canal
Egypt’s contribution to peace and global maritime trade
The idea to construct a navigational canal to connect the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea via the River Nile could be dated as back as 1874 B.C. The Canal of the Pharaohs was dug during the reign of Senausert III, Pharaoh of Egypt, and was later abandoned due to silting, and reopened several times later during the Roman, Greek, Persian, and Arab eras. The Suez Canal as we know today is in fact the first to directly connect the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.
During the 15th and 17th centuries, following the emergence of British and Portuguese trade routes with India and Far East, digging a canal linking the Mediterranean and the Red Sea was reevaluated, yet it was not until the French occupation of Egypt (1798-1801) that the first survey was conducted by Napoleon’s engineers who mistakenly concluded that the Red Sea level was 33 feet higher than the Mediterranean and that locks would be needed.
The modern day Suez Canal was later reconsidered in 1854 when French entrepreneur Ferdinand De Lesseps received a concession to build the Canal and operate it for 99 years from Khedive Saied of Egypt. It took more than a million laborer and 10 years to build the waterway under difficult conditions, and was completed in 1869 and officially opened with an extravagant ceremony later on November 19th the same year.
Although the canal was built to serve, and profit from international trade, its international status remained undefined for many years. In 1888 the major maritime powers at the time signed the Convention of Constantinople, which declared that the canal should be open to ships of all nations in times of both peace and war. In addition, the convention forbids acts of hostility in the waters of the canal or the construction of fortifications on its banks. Theoretically, the canal was open to all belligerents during World Wars I and II, but the naval and military superiority of the Allied forces denied effective use of the canal to the shipping of Germany and its allies.
In 1956, thirteen years before the concession was due to expire, the Canal was nationalized by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, precipitating the Suez Crisis. Since then the Egyptian government has exercised complete control through its Suez Canal Authority (SCA).
In recent history the Canal was closed in two occasions: the first during the Suez Crisis of 1956–57, but was reopened in January 1957, while the second closing was a consequence of the Arab-Israeli war of June 1967. With the reopening of the canal in June 1975 and the signing of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979, all nations had access to the waterway.
Today, this unique 120 mile long international waterway, extending from Port Said in the north to Suez in the south, carries some 8% of global maritime trade, including daily passage of 2.5 million barrel of Middle East oil to Europe*. The SUMED pipeline runs close to the canal, connecting the Ain Sukhna terminal on the Gulf of Suez to Sidi Kerir on the coast of the Mediterranean, and is just as important as the canal. SUMED transports oil, partly from very large tankers that need to offload some of their cargo before they can fit into the canal.
In recent years, the Canal had seen several upgrades which currently allow an average of 20000 transits every year with a total tonnage that exceeds a billion metric tons of container goods, generating more than 5 billion USD annually in tolls*. The Suez Canal allows ships travelling between the east and the west to avoid the long journey around the Cape of Good Hope, cutting routes by an average of 6,000 miles. Although the latest generation of huge supertankers cannot traverse the canal fully-laden, it remains one of the world's most important waterways.
The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the Suez Canal, for the safety of the traffic and for all other related matters. SCA is also responsible for the computerized traffic management supported by radar, and for the 14 pilot stations and their pilots. Since 1996, SCA also operates the Maritime Training and Simulation Center for its pilots.
In August 2015 a new 22-mile (35-km) expansion running parallel to the main channel was opened, allowing ships to transit the Canal in both directions simultaneously. The main channel was also deepened to 78 feet to allow for the passage of larger ships. The expansion project, which cost some 8 billion USD funded entirely by national bonds, launched by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi , was part of an effort to reenergize Egypt’s economy.
As part of the 2015 expansion project, the Egyptian government announced plans to build six new tunnels for both vehicles and trains underneath the Canal. The project also includes reclaiming some 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) of land for agriculture use. Other mega projects are planned to transform the Suez Canal zone into a vibrant logistic center, technology Park, and industrial zone attracting significant investments.
Today the Suez Canal remain a unique motorway that offers a bridge for strengthening regional and world peace, expanding international trade, providing security for global energy supplies, as well as an important revenue earner for the Egyptian economy. It truly signifies an Egyptian contribution for the good of humanity.
*in addition to additional 2.5 million barrels of oil transferred through the SUMID pipeline.
*toll is callculated by special Drawing units (SDR) equated by several convertible curencies, with an avarage cost of 250000 USD to transit the Canal for each vessel.