The Suez Canal

The Suez Canal

International maritime trade is the core of the transport of goods around the globe. No other means of transport is so inexpensive, and therefore around 62% of goods transported within Europe and almost 98% at intercontinental level are transported across the world's oceans.

A bottleneck between West and East, between Europe, Asia and parts of Africa is the Suez Canal, through which a good tenth of the world's maritime trade passes. It was opened almost 150 years ago, at the end of 1869, after ten years of construction, and since then has connected the Mediterranean Sea from its port of entry, Port Said, to the Red Sea and the port of Suez, which gave the canal its name. An occasion to take a look at this canal, which is still the longest in the world.

A mad construction project, especially if one considers the circumstances of that time - it was probably the largest and most ambitious in the world at the middle of the 19th century. It was built in the middle of and through the desert, far away from existing infrastructure. For the supply and accommodation of the workforce, basic facilities first had to be installed. At the beginning of the work, before the first roads were built, drinking water and food supplies were transported with up to 1800 camels. All building materials, construction machinery, tools, coal and wood were imported from Europe. A great logistical effort.

The completion and finally the opening of the Suez Canal brought about groundbreaking changes for international trade and the balance of powers worldwide. Between the today's two giant ports Rotterdam and Singapore, 11,755 nautical miles (21770.26 km) have to be driven around Africa. The passage through the Suez Canal shortens the distance considerably to 8,281 nautical miles (15336.41 km).

Twenty years after it was put into operation in 1888, the Constantinople Convention stipulated that the canal could be navigated by all ships of all states, i.e. merchant ships as well as warships, without restriction in peacetime and wartime. The only restriction is that naval ships of states at war may not moor and are not supplied. This convention is still in force today.

Like other canals, the Suez Canal has undergone various modifications over the years. Slight changes in the water flow are part of it, but also deepening and widening of the fairway. The last deepening was completed in 2009. Since then, the Suez Canal, including its northern and southern access canals, has measured 193.3 km. Since the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea have hardly any difference in altitude, the canal is completely lock-free. In the north it has a width of up to 345 m at the water surface, depending on the level, and 215 m at the bottom; in the south it is up to 280 m at the surface and 195 m at the bottom. The depth reaches 19 to 24 m, depending on the water level.

In 2015 a second section of the canal was opened, which runs parallel to the old Suez Canal at a length of 37 km. In this area, shipping traffic now runs in both directions. In the old canal it is only possible to navigate in one direction. Therefore the ships pass through the canal in shifts and also in convoys with a distance of two to three kilometres between each other. The maximum speed is 8 knots, which corresponds to approx. 15k/h. Thus the passage of the canal takes about 14 hours, day and night is driven.

The operating company Suez Canal Authority (SCA) is responsible for all activities in and around the Suez canal. SCA was founded in 1956 with the nationalisation of the Canal. In the context of the resulting Suez crisis, President Nassr took the ownership and management rights from the British, and since then the SCA has been the operator, owner and administrator of the Suez Canal as a kind of public institution.
In fiscal 2017/2018 (May to April), SCA achieved record revenues of nearly $5.6 billion, an increase of 11.5% over the previous year. In 2018, a total of 18,078 cargo ships (and 96 passenger ships) passed through the canal, carrying 1,139,629 tons of goods. SCA attaches great importance to intensive customer service, continuous optimization of services and facilities in order to maximize opportunities and strengthen its own position in international trade in the long term. Last but not least, safety also plays a major role. The accident rate in the Suez Canal is close to zero, which is also possible thanks to one of the most modern monitoring systems, which has every corner of the canal in view with the aid of a fine radar network. As already happened in the past, SCA and the Egyptian government are also prepared to further expand and deepen the canal according to future needs.

Already the pharaohs in Ancient Egypt began similar canal constructions in stages and in somewhat different routing. The Persian king Darius I (521 to 486 BC) finally completed the first canal from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, which is documented in four steles on the shore. Already at that time the powers knew about the importance for trade and transport over the oceans. What was first planned and started almost 3000 years ago is still today one of the most important waterways and one of the most important hubs for world trade.