Suez Canal

Suez Canal

Man-made shipping channels are extremely useful for ocean shipping because they help avoid detours and save significant costs. One of the world's most important canals is the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean with the Red Sea. Ships traveling through the Suez Canal avoid the time-consuming detour around Cape De Good hope.

History of the Suez Canal

The Egyptian pharaohs were the first to recognize the benefits of a water connection between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea for intensifying trade contacts. Canal construction began around 1.850 BC using the technology of the time and taking into account geographical conditions. Well over 1.000 years passed until a connection between the two seas was created around 500 BC. However, the factors of work and time are unlikely to have had any significance in that era.

Entrance into the Suez Canal near Suez

Entrance into the Suez Canal near Suez

A few hundred years later the canal was no longer usable due to siltation. As a result, there were regular phases of use and silting. After the Egyptian pharaohs, the Persians, Romans and some Islamic rulers also attempted to expand and maintain the canal.

Under Napoleon Bonaparte's reign, the canal project was restarted and soon afterwards abandoned. The reason: As a result of incorrect calculations, the water level of both seas was incorrectly determined with a ten meter difference in level. Only after further studies showed no striking difference in the water levels of the two seas did construction of the canal finally begin on April 25, 1859.

Provincial capital Suez

Provincial capital Suez

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

Suez Canal - west bankSuez Canal - west bank

The Suez Canal was originally financed by French and English investors. However, this did not prevent the then Egyptian ruler Gamal Abd El Naser from declaring the canal Egyptian property in 1956. The resulting international controversy led to the waterway being temporarily closed. A second, much longer interruption of operations 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

The Suez Canal is currently operated and managed by the Suez Canal Authority, an institution under Egyptian public law.

Technical specifications

Both seas have almost the same level, so the Suez Canal is different Panama Canal, without locks. It runs from Port Said on the Mediterranean to the provincial capital of As-Suweis (Suez) on the Gulf of Suez. The Suez Canal is the longest lockless artificial waterway in the world. Without its northern and southern access channels, 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 channels over a length of 37 kilometers. Two bridges, a tunnel and 14 ferry services cross the canal.

Suez Canal - Al Salam BridgeSuez Canal - Al Salam Bridge

Traffic in the canal is regulated using the “Rules of Navigation”. The “rules” provide, among other things, for convoy driving. A convoy each travels north and south every day. As long as the ships move in two separate channels, canal navigation is unproblematic. In the much longer, single-lane canal area, the one-way street principle applies to ship convoys. In the Great Bitter Lake the ships wait for the change of direction. The canal crossing usually takes twelve 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 canal passage; Four pilots are responsible for each ship. The speeds and order of the ships are also regulated. Warships lead a convoy; They are followed by cruise ships, car transporters and other ship types. The distance between ships must be three kilometers.

Suez Canal - convoy driving is compulsory

Suez Canal - convoy driving is compulsory

Economic benefit

According to the IFW Kiel, the Institute for the World Economy, around two thirds of all imports between Germany and East Asia travel by sea. 98 percent of container ships traveling between Germany and China use the Suez Canal.

According to “”, more than 2021 ships passed through the canal in 20.000. The canal authority generated revenue of around 6,3 billion US dollars, equivalent to 5,8 billion euros. Apart 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. For example, the canal passage shortens the route Singapore-Hamburg by 3.425 nautical miles. At an estimated speed of 13 knots, this corresponds to a time saving of eleven days. However, there is uncertainty regarding attacks by Houthi terrorists on shipping. Shipping companies are likely to be forced to sail their ships around South Africa in the future.

Suez Canal - Gigantic new construction project on the east bank

Suez Canal - Gigantic new construction project on the east bank

Suez Canal – from the perspective of a cruise passenger

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 March 2024

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