At the May 11 inauguration ceremony of a number of development projects at the Suez Canal Authority headquarters in Ismailia, attended by a number of top government officials, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced his approval of a project to expand the Suez Canal.
Canal authority chairman Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie, who presented the project to Sisi, said at the ceremony that the project aims to widenand deepen the southernmost 30-kilometer (18-mile) stretch of the waterway by 40 meters (130 feet) eastward. It also seeks to deepen the waterway from 66 feet to 72 feet and extend the second canal lane opened in 2015 by 10 kilometers (6 miles) southward, Rabie said.
The project will increase the Suez Canal capacity to three ships in each direction, Rabie added, noting that the project will ensure a better passage for ships in the waterway, which is where the 400-meter-long (1,310-foot) Ever Given vessel ran aground and took a week of towing and dredging to finally be freed back in March.
Speaking at the televised ceremony, Sisi said the project aims to improve the movement of ships in the southern stretch where the Ever Given was jammed; he expressed hope that the project would be completed in less than 24 months.
He said he is not willing to mobilize huge resources for the project and called for using available canal authority equipment and resorting to foreign companies that would make good offers for their dredging services.
Sisi said the new project is part of a plan that targets the entire shipping passage, not only the section that was opened in 2015. “The project was planned for a later stage, but it is about time to implement it given the recent developments,” he said in reference to the container ship incident.
Nearly 12% of global trade goes through the 193-kilometer-long (120 mile) Suez Canal that connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea. The canal has been the shortest maritime route between Asia and Europe since it was opened in 1869. In 2015, the Egyptian government widened the canal , deepened the main waterway and opened a 35-kilometer-long (22 mile) parallel waterway at a cost of nearly $8.2 billion.
An informed source at the canal authority told Al-Monitor that the new project is designed to restore and boost confidence in the canal as a top international shipping lane on the heels of the Ever Given incident. It also seeks to widen and deepen the southernmost stretch to reduce any risks that a ship’s captain could face due to the curves or opposing water currents, and to avoid any accidents in the future, he added.
The source explained that the new project is a continuation of the canal lane that was opened in 2015, which was limited to the northern and central sections of the canal. This time, the focus is made on the southern section, the source added, indicating that no changes have been made to the southern section since the canal was inaugurated and that it involves bends with harder rocks.
He said that there were also political motives behind the opening of the canal lane in 2015 and that Sisi wanted to rally all Egyptians around a national goal. The canal appears unlikely to achieve an increase in revenue to $13.2 billion by 2023 as the canal authority had projected, he added.Suez Canal revenues dropped to $5.6 billion in 2020, compared with $5.8 billion in 2019, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which gravely impacted global trade.
Kaddour said “the wider the canal, the fewer the incidents. Yet such projects will be [uneconomical for Egypt], similar to the canal lane that was opened in 2015.”