The new Suez Canal
This summer saw the much trumpeted opening of ‘The New Suez Canal’, a project which has brought great pride to Egypt after recent years of internal strife. The improvements to the 146 year old canal include a new 37km long parallel channel which will allow two-way traffic for the first time and help double capacity from 49 to 97 ships a day - a huge and welcome increase given the canal’s importance to world trade.
As a young midshipman with the Blue Funnel Line in the early 1960s, I can clearly remember transiting the canal for the first time. The history of Blue Funnel was closely tied to the Suez Canal with the growing success of the shipping company owing much to the opening up of the Europe-Asia trade routes following the completion of the canal in 1869. The history of the canal was not always kind to Blue Funnel however, with two of its ships trapped in the Great Bitter Lake section of the canal (along with 13 others) between 1967-75 as a result of the Six Day War between Egypt and Israel.
Perhaps the most famous event in the history of the canal was played out in 1956 when following many years of British control, the Egyptian President Gamal Nasser nationalised the canal, triggering an aborted invasion by the UK, France and Israel and eventually causing the downfall of Sir Anthony Eden as British Prime Minister. To this day, it is still seen by many as one of the worst foreign policy errors in British history.
The canal was a wonder of 19th century engineering and the latest project is equally as impressive and was only commissioned by Egyptian President el-Sisi last summer. Costing $8.5 billion, nearly 43,000 workers have been responsible for completing the work and the Egyptian public have helped finance it by snapping up state-issued bonds. The accelerated delivery of the project contrasts with the equally as high profile expansion of the Panama Canal which began in 2007 but which is not yet complete.
It will be fascinating to see whether the ‘new’ Suez Canal delivers the growth predictions which the Canal Authority have published, but there is no doubt that this new chapter in the canal’s history is a significant development for worldwide maritime trade and a boost for the people of Egypt.
HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR