Suez Canal

Suez Canal


Man-made shipping channels are extremely useful for ocean-going shipping because they help avoid detours and save costs. One of the world's most important canals is the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean with the Red Sea.

Suez Canal - NASA space photo

History of the Suez Canal

Even the Egyptian pharaohs recognized the benefit of a water connection between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea to intensify trade contacts. Starting around 1.850 BC, the construction of the canal began with the technology of that time and taking into account geographical conditions. Well over 1.000 years passed before a connection between the two seas was established around 500 BC. However, the factors work and time are unlikely to have had any significance in this epoch.

Entrance into the Suez Canal near Suez

Entrance into the Suez Canal near Suez


A few hundred years later the canal was silted up again. Regular phases of reopening and silting followed. After the Egyptian pharaohs, the Persians, Romans and some Islamic rulers also tried their hand at expanding and maintaining the canal.

Under Napoleon Bonaparte, the canal project was started again and soon discarded because, due to incorrect calculations, the water level of both seas was incorrectly determined with a level difference of ten meters. Only after renewed studies showed no striking difference in the water levels of the two seas, on April 25, 1859, the canal was definitely built.

Sue

Sue


There were many setbacks and thousands of workers lost their lives. The magnitude of the losses varies according to different sources between 20.000 and 120.000 human lives. After ten years of construction, the canal was cut through on November 17, 1869. The 9-meter-deep, 30-meter-wide and 160-kilometer-long structure was successfully completed.

Suez Canal - west bankSuez Canal - west bank


The Suez Canal was originally financed by French and English investors, which in 1956 did not prevent the then Egyptian ruler, Gamal Abd El Naser, from declaring the canal to Egyptian property. The resulting international controversy led to a temporary closure of the waterway. A second, much longer business interruption occurred between January 1967 and July 1975 due to and because of the consequences of the six-day war between Israel and the states of Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

Suez Canal - east bank

Suez Canal - east bank


Technical specifications

Both seas have almost the same level, so the Suez Canal gets by without locks, unlike the one Panama Canal. It leads from Port Said on the Mediterranean to El Suweis (Suez) on the Gulf of Suez, which has more than half a million inhabitants. The Suez Canal is the longest man-made waterway without locks in the world. Without its northern and southern access canals, it measures 163 kilometers in length. Its width is 195 meters at its narrowest point and its depth is 24 meters. Since 2015, the canal has had two independent fairways over a length of 37 kilometers. Two bridges, a tunnel and 14 ferry connections cross the canal.

Suez Canal - Al Salam BridgeSuez Canal - Al Salam Bridge


The traffic in the canal is regulated by means of the "Rules of Navigation". These rules include driving in a convoy. A convoy travels north and south each day. As long as the ships move in two separate fairways, canal travel is unproblematic. In the much longer single-lane canal area, the principle of the one-way street applies to the ship convoys. In the Great Bitter Lake, the ships wait for the direction of travel to change. The passage through the canal takes about eleven hours.

With the cruise ship in the Suez Canal
Suez Canal - west bank
Car freighter in the Suez Canal
Suez Canal - Wataniya
Suez Canal - Ships in the Great Bitter Lake
Army base on the Suez Canal
Ferry across the Suez Canal
Monumental symbolism on the west bank of the Suez Canal


The Canal Company employs 200 pilots to ensure safe passage through the canal; four pilots are responsible for each ship. The speeds and the order of the ships are also regulated. Warships lead a convoy; They are followed by cruise ships, car transporters and other types of ships. The distances between the ships must be three kilometers.

Suez Canal - convoy driving is compulsory

Suez Canal - convoy driving is compulsory


Economic benefit

In the 2014/15 fiscal year, a total of 17.544 ships used the canal. Operating income was $ 5,41 billion. Aside from the invaluable benefits for Egypt, the canal passage also offers significant advantages to shipping companies. The ships save themselves the detour around the southern tip of Africa. The consequences are significant time savings and cost savings. The canal passage, for example, shortens the Singapore-Rotterdam route by 3.474 to 8.281 nautical miles. - After the completion of the 37-kilometer-long second fairway, which runs parallel to the canal, the canal authority is anticipating increasing revenues.

Suez Canal - Gigantic new construction project on the east bank

Suez Canal - Gigantic new construction project on the east bank


Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of taking a Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan should be reminded of the strip of green cultivated land adjoining the Nile and the endlessly wide deserts of Egypt that begin behind when passing the Suez Canal. Admittedly, there are fewer green belts along the Suez Canal than on the Nile, but that's no reason to only spend the Suez Canal passage in the SPA. After all, there is enough to see in the Canal Zone. 

Update November 2019 

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