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Egypt's Suez Canal: A history of the key route

Egypt's Suez Canal: A history of the key route

The Suez Canal is one of the world's most important trade routes, providing passage for 10 per cent of all international maritime trade. (Photo: AFP/CHRISTOS GOULIAMAKIS)

CAIRO: Egypt's Suez Canal, where frantic efforts were being made on Wednesday (Mar 24) to free a giant container ship, opened 150 years ago.

READ: Suez Canal blocked by massive cargo ship

It has been regularly expanded and modernised, and is today capable of accommodating some of the world's largest supertankers.

Here is a look back at key stages in the enlargement of the waterway, which handles roughly 10 per cent of international maritime trade.


When the sea-level canal was first opened in 1869, it was 164km long and 8m deep.

It could accommodate ships of up to about 4,500 tonnes to a depth of 6.7m, which constituted the bulk of the world's fleet at the time, according to the Suez Canal Authority.

In 1887, the canal was modernised to allow navigation at night, which doubled its capacity.

A file photo from November 1869 shows the inauguration of the Suez Canal in Egypt, which opened after a decade-long construction to link the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. (Photo: AFP)


It was not until the 1950s that the waterway was substantially expanded, deepened and lengthened, following demands from shipping companies.

By the time it was nationalised by Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1956, it was 175km long and 14m deep, and could take tankers with a capacity of about 27,000 tonnes to a depth of 10.7 metres.

The Suez Canal in 1955, during a phase of major expansion and a year before it was nationalised by Egypt. (Photo: AFP)


A major expansion in 2015 took the length of the waterway to 193.3km and its depth to 24m.

It meant that the canal could handle supertankers with a capacity of about 217,000 tonnes, some of the biggest in the world, that went up to 20.1m deep in the water.

In 2019 around 50 ships used the canal daily, compared with three in 1869.

Traffic is expected to almost double by 2023, with two-way circulation also reducing waiting times, the authority says.

File photo of the US Navy's Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group passing through the Suez Canal on May 9, 2019 on its way towards the Gulf. (Photo: AFP/Darion Chanelle Triplett)


The majority of oil transported by sea passes through the Suez Canal, which is the fastest crossing from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean, but demands hefty passage tolls.

The journey between ports in the Gulf and London, for example, is roughly halved by going through the Suez - compared to the alternate route via the southern tip of Africa.

Most of the cargo travelling from the Gulf to Western Europe is oil. In the opposite direction, it is mostly manufactured goods and grain from Europe and North America headed to the Far East and Asia.

Source: AFP/dv


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