It was a memorable day. Saturday 25 July saw the trial opening of the first phase of what Egyptians hope would be a national project that comes with prosperity on its heels: the New Suez Canal project. The official opening is scheduled for 6 August and promises to be as grand as the first opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. [Watani International, 31 August 2014, P1; http://en.wataninet.com/features_1/story-of-a-canal/11706/]
Amid a general air of euphoric rejoicing, the first test run was carried out on the new Suez Canal which links the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. Two fleets of three container ships each sailed northward and southward at the same time on the newly dug and deepened two-way waterway. The ships sailing from Red Sea port of Suez on the southern tip of the canal to Port Said on the northern Mediterranean tip flew the flags of Singapore, Luxembourg, and Bahrain; those that sailed north to south flew Liberian, Singaporian and Hong Kong flags.
The new 72km-long new waterway runs alongside the original 165km-long canal and allows two-way traffic of vessels with draughts of up to 66 feet. It took the Egyptian army the record time of 11 months to dig 37km of the new waterway, and to deepen and expand 35km of the original. The result, according to the chairman of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) Mohab Mameesh, is that the navigation time for ships to cross one of the most heavily used shipping lanes and trade routes in the world has been reduced from 22 to 11 hours. This makes it the fastest such waterway in the world, he said.
Egyptians feel special pride in the new project which they totally funded through investment certificates to the tune of USD8 billion. It is expected to more than double the current revenue of the Suez Canal which now stands at some USD5.3 billion to USD13.2 billion in 2023.
The canal is part of an ambitious plan to develop the surrounding area into an industrial and commercial hub that would include the construction of ports and provide shipping and logistics services. The government hopes the revenue will eventually make up about a third of the Egyptian economy.
The Saturday test run took place amid tight security. State television said there were helicopters circling above and showed naval vessels escorting the ships.
Mameesh, accompanied by members of the board of the SCA and a number of engineers from the dredging department, boarded the crossing vessels, greeted their captains and offered them flowers. He announced from aboard the first ship that the test-run was a success.
Hosni Tareq Hassanein, spokesman for the SCA, said that cargo vessels constitute some 53 per cent of the ships sailing through the canal, which is why they had to conduct the test run. The new waterway, he said, will be used by vessels sailing northwards.
29 July 2015