Category Archives: Canal

Panama Canal

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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The Panama Canal (Spanish: Canal de Panamá) is an artificial 77 km (48 mi) waterway in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. The canal cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. There are locks at each end to lift ships up to Gatun Lake, an artificial lake created to reduce the amount of excavation work required for the canal, 26 m (85 ft) above sea level, and then lower the ships at the other end. The original locks are 34 m (110 ft) wide. A third, wider lane of locks was constructed between September 2007 and May 2016. The expanded canal began commercial operation on June 26, 2016. The new locks allow transit of larger, Post-Panamax ships, capable of handling more cargo.

France began work on the canal in 1881 but stopped due to engineering problems and a high worker mortality rate. The United States took over the project in 1904 and opened the canal on August 15, 1914. One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the Panama Canal shortcut greatly reduced the time for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, enabling them to avoid the lengthy, hazardous Cape Horn route around the southernmost tip of South America via the Drake Passage or Strait of Magellan.

Colombia, France, and later the United States controlled the territory surrounding the canal during construction. The U.S. continued to control the canal and surrounding Panama Canal Zone until the 1977 Torrijos–Carter Treaties provided for handover to Panama. After a period of joint American–Panamanian control, in 1999 the canal was taken over by the Panamanian government and is now managed and operated by the government-owned Panama Canal Authority.

Annual traffic has risen from about 1,000 ships in 1914, when the canal opened, to 14,702 vessels in 2008, for a total of 333.7 million Panama Canal/Universal Measurement System (PC/UMS) tons. By 2012, more than 815,000 vessels had passed through the canal. It takes six to eight hours to pass through the Panama Canal. The American Society of Civil Engineers has called the Panama Canal one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

History


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Satellite image showing location of Panama Canal. Dense jungles are visible in green.

Early proposals in Panama

The earliest mention of a canal across the Isthmus of Panama dates back to 1534, when Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, ordered a survey for a route through the Americas that would ease the voyage for ships traveling between Spain and Peru. Such a route would have given the Spanish a military advantage over the Portuguese.

In 1668 the English physician and philosopher Sir Thomas Browne speculated in his encyclopaedic endeavour Pseudodoxia Epidemica – some Isthmus have been eat through by the Sea, and others cut by the spade: And if policy would permit, that of Panama in America were most worthy the attempt: it being but few miles over, and would open a shorter cut unto the East Indies and China.

In 1788, Thomas Jefferson suggested that the Spanish should create it since it would be a less treacherous route than going around the southern tip of South America, which tropical ocean currents would naturally widen thereafter. During an expedition from 1788 to 1793, Alessandro Malaspina outlined plans for its construction.

Given the strategic location of Panama and the potential offered by its narrow isthmus separating two great oceans, other trade links in the area were attempted over the years. The ill-fated Darien scheme was launched by the Kingdom of Scotland in 1698 to set up an overland trade route. Generally inhospitable conditions thwarted the effort and it was abandoned in April 1700.

The late 18th and early 19th centuries saw a number of canals built. The success of the Erie Canal in the United States and the collapse of the Spanish Empire in Latin America led to a surge of American interest in building an interoceanic canal. Beginning in 1826, US officials began negotiations with Gran Colombia (present-day Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama), hoping to gain a concession for the building of a canal. Jealous of their newly obtained independence and fearing that they would be dominated by an American presence, the president Simon Bolivar and new granadans officials declined American offers. The new nation was politically unstable, and Panama rebelled several times during the 19th century.

Another effort was made in 1843. According to the New York Daily Tribune, August 24, 1843, a contract was entered into by Barings of London and the Republic of New Granada for the construction of a canal across the Isthmus of Darien (Isthmus of Panama). They referred to it as the Atlantic and Pacific Canal and it was a wholly British endeavor. It was expected to be completed in five years, but the plan was never carried out. At nearly the same time, other ideas were floated, including a canal (and/or a railroad) across Mexico’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Nothing came of that plan either.

In 1846 the Mallarino–Bidlack Treaty, negotiated between the U.S. and New Granada, granted the United States transit rights and the right to intervene militarily in the isthmus. In 1849, the discovery of gold in California created great interest in a crossing between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Panama Railway was built by the United States to cross the isthmus and opened in 1855. This overland link became a vital piece of western hemisphere infrastructure, greatly facilitating trade and largely determining the later canal route.

An all-water route between the oceans was still seen as the ideal solution, and in 1855 William Kennish, a Manx-born engineer working for the United States government, surveyed the isthmus and issued a report on a route for a proposed Panama Canal. His report was published as a book entitled The Practicability and Importance of a Ship Canal to Connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

In 1877 Armand Reclus, an officer with the French Navy, and Lucien Napoléon Bonaparte Wyse, both engineers, surveyed the route and published a French proposal for a canal. French success in building the Suez Canal, while a lengthy project, encouraged planning for one to cross the isthmus.

French Construction Attempts, 1881–1894

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Ferdinand de Lesseps

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Excavator at work, in Bas Obispo, 1886

The first attempt to construct a canal through what was then Colombia’s province of Panama began on January 1, 1881. The project was inspired by the diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps, who was able to raise considerable finance in France as a result of the huge profits generated by his successful construction of the Suez Canal. Although the Panama Canal would eventually have to be only 40% as long as the Suez Canal, the former would prove to be far more of an engineering challenge, due to the tropical rain forests, the climate, the need for canal locks, and the lack of any ancient route to follow.

De Lesseps wanted a sea-level canal as at Suez but only visited the site a few times, during the dry season which lasts only four months of the year. His men were totally unprepared for the rainy season, during which the Chagres River, where the canal started, became a raging torrent, rising up to 10 meters (35 feet). The dense jungle was alive with venomous snakes, insects and spiders, but the worst aspect was the yellow fever and malaria (and other tropical diseases) which killed thousands of workers: by 1884 the death rate was over 200 per month. Public health measures were ineffective because the role of the mosquito as a disease vector was then unknown. Conditions were downplayed in France to avoid recruitment problems, but the high mortality rate made it difficult to maintain an experienced workforce.

Workers had to continually widen the main cut through the mountain at Culebra and reduce the angles of the slopes to minimize landslides into the canal. Steam shovels were used in the construction of the canal, and they were purchased from Bay City Industrial Works, a business owned by William L. Clements in Bay City, Michigan. Other mechanical and electrical equipment was limited in its capabilities, and steel equipment rusted rapidly in the climate.

In France, de Lesseps kept the investment and supply of workers flowing long after it was obvious that the targets were not being met, but eventually the money ran out. The French effort went bankrupt in 1889 after reportedly spending US$287,000,000 and losing an estimated 22,000 lives to disease and accidents, wiping out the savings of 800,000 investors. Work was suspended on May 15, and in the ensuing scandal, known as the Panama affair, various of those deemed responsible were prosecuted, including Gustave Eiffel. De Lesseps and his son Charles were found guilty of misappropriation of funds and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, though this was later overturned, and the father, at 88, was never imprisoned.

In 1894, a second French company, the Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de Panama, was created to take over the project. A minimal workforce of a few thousand people was employed primarily to comply with the terms of the Colombian Panama Canal concession, to run the Panama Railroad, and to maintain the existing excavation and equipment in salable condition. The company sought a buyer for these assets, with an asking price of US$109,000,000. In the meantime they continued with enough activity to maintain their franchise. Phillipe Bunau-Varilla, the French manager of the New Panama Canal Company, eventually managed to persuade de Lesseps that a lock-and-lake canal was more realistic than a sea-level canal.

United States Acquisition

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The U.S.’s intentions to influence the area (especially the Panama Canal construction and control) led to the separation of Panama from Colombia in 1903

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The Culebra Cut, or Gaillard Cut, in 1896

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The Culebra Cut in 1902

At this time, the President and the Senate of the United States were interested in establishing a canal across the isthmus, with some favoring a canal across Nicaragua and others advocating the purchase of the French interests in Panama. Bunau-Varilla, who was seeking American involvement, asked for $100 million, but accepted $40 million in the face of the Nicaraguan option. In June 1902, the U.S. Senate voted in favor of pursuing the Panamanian option, provided the necessary rights could be obtained, in the Spooner Act.

On January 22, 1903, the Hay–Herrán Treaty was signed by United States Secretary of State John M. Hay and Colombian Chargé Dr. Tomás Herrán. For $10 million and an annual payment it would have granted the United States a renewable lease in perpetuity from Colombia on the land proposed for the canal. The treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate on March 14, 1903, but the Senate of Colombia did not ratify it. Bunau-Varilla told President Theodore Roosevelt and Hay of a possible revolt by Panamanian rebels who aimed to separate from Colombia, and hoped that the United States would support the rebels with U.S. troops and money. Roosevelt changed tactics, based in part on the Mallarino–Bidlack Treaty of 1846, and actively supported the separation of Panama from Colombia and, shortly after recognizing Panama, signed a treaty with the new Panamanian government under similar terms to the Hay–Herrán Treaty.

On November 2, 1903, U.S. warships blocked sea lanes for possible Colombian troop movements en route to put down the rebellion. Panama declared independence on November 3, 1903. The United States quickly recognized the new nation. On November 6, 1903, Philippe Bunau-Varilla, as Panama’s ambassador to the United States, signed the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty, granting rights to the United States to build and indefinitely administer the Panama Canal Zone and its defenses. This is sometimes misinterpreted as the “99-year lease” because of misleading wording included in article 22 of the agreement. Almost immediately, the treaty was condemned by many Panamanians as an infringement on their country’s new national sovereignty. This would later become a contentious diplomatic issue among Colombia, Panama, and the United States.

President Roosevelt famously stated that “I took the Isthmus, started the canal and then left Congress not to debate the canal, but to debate me.” Several parties in the United States called this an act of war on Colombia: The New York Times called the support given by the United States to Bunau-Varilla an “act of sordid conquest.” The New York Evening Post called it a “vulgar and mercenary venture.” It is often cited as the classic example of U.S. gunboat diplomacy in Latin America, and the best illustration of what Roosevelt meant by the old African adage, “Speak softly and carry a big stick [and] you will go far.” After the revolution in 1903, the Republic of Panama became a U.S. protectorate until 1939.

Thus in 1904, the United States purchased the French equipment and excavations, including the Panama Railroad, for US$40 million, of which $30 million related to excavations completed, primarily in the Gaillard Cut (then called the Culebra Cut), valued at about $1.00 per cubic yard. The United States also paid the new country of Panama $10 million and a $250,000 payment each following year.

In 1921, Colombia and the United States entered into the Thomson-Urrutia Treaty, in which the United States agreed to pay Colombia $25 million: $5 million upon ratification, and four-$5 million annual payments, and grant Colombia special privileges in the Canal Zone. In return, Colombia recognized Panama as an independent nation.

United States Construction of the Panama Canal, 1904–1914

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Construction of locks on the Panama Canal, 1913

The U.S. formally took control of the canal property on May 4, 1904, inheriting from the French a depleted workforce and a vast jumble of buildings, infrastructure and equipment, much of it in poor condition. A U.S. government commission, the Isthmian Canal Commission (ICC), was established to oversee construction and was given control of the Panama Canal Zone, over which the United States exercised sovereignty. The commission reported directly to Secretary of War William Howard Taft and was directed to avoid the inefficiency and corruption that had plagued the French 15 years earlier.

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John Frank Stevens

On May 6, 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed John Findley Wallace, formerly chief engineer and finally general manager of the Illinois Central Railroad, as chief engineer of the Panama Canal Project. Overwhelmed by the disease-plagued country and forced to use often dilapidated French infrastructure and equipment, as well as being frustrated by the overly bureaucratic ICC, Wallace resigned abruptly in June 1905. He was succeeded by John Frank Stevens, a self-educated engineer who had built the Great Northern Railroad. Stevens was not a member of the ICC; he increasingly viewed its bureaucracy as a serious hindrance, bypassing the commission and sending requests and demands directly to the Roosevelt Administration in Washington.

One of Stevens’ first achievements in Panama was in building and rebuilding the housing, cafeterias, hotels, water systems, repair shops, warehouses, and other infrastructure needed by the thousands of incoming workers. Stevens began the recruitment effort to entice thousands of workers from the United States and other areas to come to the Canal Zone to work, and tried to provide accommodation in which the incoming workers could work and live in reasonable safety and comfort. He also re-established and enlarged the railway that was to prove crucial in transporting millions of tons of soil from the cut through the mountains to the dam across the Chagres River.

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William C. Gorgas

Colonel William C. Gorgas had been appointed chief sanitation officer of the canal construction project in 1904. Gorgas implemented a range of measures to minimize the spread of deadly diseases, particularly yellow fever and malaria which had recently been shown to be mosquito-borne following the work of Dr. Carlos Finlay and Dr. Walter Reed. There was investment in extensive sanitation projects, including city water systems, fumigation of buildings, spraying of insect-breeding areas with oil and larvicide, installation of mosquito netting and window screens, and elimination of stagnant water. Despite opposition from the Commission (one member said his ideas were barmy), Gorgas persisted and when Stevens arrived, he threw his weight behind the project. After two years of extensive work, the mosquito-spread diseases were nearly eliminated. Nevertheless, even with all this effort, about 5,600 workers died of disease and accidents during the U.S. construction phase of the canal.

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President Theodore Roosevelt sitting on a steam shovel at Culebra Cut, 1906

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Construction work on the Gaillard Cut is shown in this photograph from 1907

In 1905, a U.S. engineering panel was commissioned to review the canal design, which still had not been finalized. It recommended to President Roosevelt a sea-level canal, as had been attempted by the French. However, in 1906 Stevens, who had seen the Chagres in full flood, was summoned to Washington and declared a sea-level approach to be “an entirely untenable proposition”. He argued in favor of a canal using a lock system to raise and lower ships from a large reservoir 85 ft (26 m) above sea level. This would create both the largest dam (Gatun Dam) and the largest man-made lake (Gatun Lake) in the world at that time. The water to refill the locks would be taken from Gatun Lake by opening and closing enormous gates and valves and letting gravity propel the water from the lake. Gatun Lake would connect to the Pacific through the mountains at the Gaillard (Culebra) Cut. Stevens successfully convinced Roosevelt of the necessity and feasibility of the alternative scheme.

The construction of a canal with locks required the excavation of more than 170,000,000 cu yd (130,000,000 m3) of material over and above the 30,000,000 cu yd (23,000,000 m3) excavated by the French. As quickly as possible, the Americans replaced or upgraded the old, unusable French equipment with new construction equipment that was designed for a much larger and faster scale of work. About 102 new large, railroad-mounted steam shovels were purchased from the Marion Power Shovel Company and brought from the United States. These were joined by enormous steam-powered cranes, giant hydraulic rock crushers, cement mixers, dredges, and pneumatic power drills, nearly all of which were manufactured by new, extensive machine-building technology developed and built in the United States. The railroad also had to be comprehensively upgraded with heavy-duty, double-tracked rails over most of the line to accommodate new rolling stock. In many places, the new Gatun Lake flooded over the original rail line, and a new line had to be constructed above Gatun Lake’s waterline.

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This before photograph of the Panama Canal was used as a guide in the construction of the Cape Cod Canal by the U.S. Army’s Office of the Chief Engineers.

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This after photograph of the Panama Canal was used as a guide in the construction of the Cape Cod Canal by the U.S. Army’s Office of the Chief Engineers.

West Indian labor Migration to Panama (1850–1914)

Emancipation in the British West Indies in 1838 freed over one-half million slaves, transforming the islands’ societies and economies. Most freedmen preferred not to do plantation work anymore, and the sugar industries gradually declined. The white colonial elites and mulatto middle classes managed to reconstruct the social hierarchy so that the blacks remained at the bottom. In such a precarious position, black freedmen had to take any jobs that appeared, including those abroad. Thus, began the trans-Caribbean migration phase of the diaspora.

The California gold rush of 1849 rekindled interest in a modern transportation route across Central America and spurred larger migrations of these freedmen. Two crossings were developed, Vanderbilt’s steamship and stage line in Nicaragua and the New York-based Panama Railroad. Both enterprises used imported labor, largely Jamaican. Some 5,000 eventually worked on the Panama railroad line. The projects proved that the West Indian blacks resisted tropical diseases better than other workers and they were available in large numbers due to the islands’ depressed economies.

Caribbean migration on a large scale would resume again in the 1880s as a result of two developments, the French canal project and the spread of banana cultivation. The French company employed over 50,000 West Indians (again mainly Jamaicans) during its unsuccessful bid to build the canal across the isthmus.

Banana cultivation also proved a boon to the region’s economy after the 1880s, expanding commercial agriculture and inducing thousands more to migrate. By the early twentieth century, the United Fruit Company operated a string of banana ports, including Puerto Limon (Costa Rica) and Bocas del Toro (Panama).

During the construction of the Panama Canal by the Americans (1904-1914), the West Indian migrations to Panama constituted a demographic tidal wave, the largest yet in Caribbean history. Officially, canal authorities brought over 31,000 West Indian men and a few women. But in fact, contemporaries estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 men and women must have migrated during the decade 1904-1914. Most did not plan to stay in Panama. Eventually though, tens of thousands remained on the isthmus because the islands offered few opportunities that could compete with the pay and benefits available in Panama. The West Indians settled, married, had children, and became the largest immigrant group in the sparsely populated country. The descendants of these immigrants are known today as Afro-Panamanians.

George Washington Goethals replaces John Frank Stevens as chief engineer

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General George Washington Goethals

In 1907, Stevens resigned as chief engineer. His replacement, appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt, was U.S. Army Major George Washington Goethals of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (soon to be promoted to lieutenant colonel and later to General), a strong, United States Military Academy–trained leader and civil engineer with experience of canals (unlike Stevens). Goethals would direct the work in Panama to a successful conclusion in 1914, two years ahead of the target date of June 10, 1916.

Goethals divided the engineering and excavation work into three divisions: Atlantic, Central, and Pacific. The Atlantic Division, under Major William L. Sibert, was responsible for construction of the massive breakwater at the entrance to Limon Bay, the Gatun locks and their 3½ mi (5.6 km) approach channel, and the immense Gatun Dam. The Pacific Division, under Sydney B. Williamson (the only civilian member of this high-level team), was similarly responsible for the Pacific 3 mi (4.8 km) breakwater in Panama Bay, the approach channel to the locks, and the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks and their associated dams and reservoirs.

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Spanish laborers working on the Panama Canal in early 1900s

The Central Division, under Major David du Bose Gaillard of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, was assigned one of the most difficult parts: excavating the Culebra Cut through the continental divide to connect Gatun Lake to the Pacific Panama Canal locks.

On October 10, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson sent a signal from the White House by telegraph which triggered the explosion that destroyed the Gamboa Dike. This flooded the Culebra Cut, thereby joining the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Alexandre La Valley (a floating crane built by Lobnitz & Company, and launched in 1887) was the first self-propelled vessel to transit the canal from ocean to ocean. This vessel crossed the canal from the Atlantic in stages during construction, finally reaching the Pacific on January 7, 1914. SS Cristobal (a cargo and passenger ship built by Maryland Steel, and launched in 1902 as SS Tremont) was the first ship to transit the canal from ocean to ocean on August 3, 1914.

The construction of the canal was completed in 1914, 401 years after Panama was first crossed by Vasco Núñez de Balboa. The United States spent almost $500,000,000 (roughly equivalent to $9,169,650,000 now) to finish the project. This was by far the largest American engineering project to date. The canal was formally opened on August 15, 1914, with the passage of the cargo ship SS Ancon.

The opening of Panama Canal in 1914 caused a severe drop in traffic along Chilean ports due to shifts in the maritime trade routes.

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A Marion steam shovel excavating the Panama Canal in 1908

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The Panama Canal locks under construction in 1910

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The first ship to transit the canal, the SS Ancon, passes through on 15 August 1914
Throughout this time, Ernest “Red” Hallen was hired by the Isthmian Canal Commission to document the progress of the work.

Later Developments

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USS Missouri passes through the canal in 1945. The Iowa-class battleships were designed to be narrow enough to fit through.

By the 1930s it was seen that water supply would be an issue for the canal; this prompted the building of the Madden Dam across the Chagres River above Gatun Lake. Completed in 1935, the dam created Madden Lake (later Alajeula Lake) which provides additional water storage for the canal. In 1939, construction began on a further major improvement: a new set of locks for the canal, large enough to carry the larger warships that the United States was building at the time and planned to continue building. The work proceeded for several years, and significant excavation was carried out on the new approach channels, but the project was canceled after World War II.

After World War II, U.S. control of the canal and the Canal Zone surrounding it became contentious; relations between Panama and the United States became increasingly tense. Many Panamanians felt that the Canal Zone rightfully belonged to Panama; student protests were met by the fencing-in of the zone and an increased military presence there. Demands for the United States to hand over the canal to Panama increased after the Suez Crisis in 1956, when the United States used financial and diplomatic pressure to force France and the UK to abandon their attempt to retake control of the Suez Canal, previously nationalized by the Nasser regime in Egypt. Unrest culminated in riots on Martyr’s Day, January 9, 1964, when about 20 Panamanians and 3–5 U.S. soldiers were killed.

A decade later, in 1974, negotiations toward a settlement began and resulted in the Torrijos–Carter Treaties. On September 7, 1977, the treaty was signed by President of the United States Jimmy Carter and Omar Torrijos, de facto leader of Panama. This mobilized the process of granting the Panamanians free control of the canal so long as Panama signed a treaty guaranteeing the permanent neutrality of the canal. The treaty led to full Panamanian control effective at noon on December 31, 1999, and the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) assumed command of the waterway. The Panama Canal remains one of the chief revenue sources for Panama.

Before this handover, the government of Panama held an international bid to negotiate a 25-year contract for operation of the container shipping ports located at the canal’s Atlantic and Pacific outlets. The contract was not affiliated with the ACP or Panama Canal operations and was won by the firm Hutchison Whampoa, a Hong Kong–based shipping interest owned by Li Ka-shing.

Canal


Layout

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While globally the Atlantic Ocean is east of the isthmus and the Pacific is west, the general direction of the canal passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific is from northwest to southeast. This is because of a local anomaly in the shape of the isthmus at the point the canal occupies. The Bridge of the Americas (Spanish: Puente de las Américas) at the Pacific side is about a third of a degree east of the Colón end on the Atlantic side. Still, in formal nautical communications, the simplified directions “Southbound” and “Northbound” are used.

The canal consists of artificial lakes, several improved and artificial channels, and three sets of locks. An additional artificial lake, Alajuela Lake (known during the American era as Madden Lake), acts as a reservoir for the canal. The layout of the canal as seen by a ship passing from the Atlantic to the Pacific is as follows:

  • From the formal marking line of the Atlantic Entrance, one enters Limón Bay (Bahía Limón), a large natural harbor. The entrance runs 5½ mi (8.4 km). It provides a deepwater port (Cristóbal), with facilities like multimodal cargo exchange (to and from train) and the Colón Free Trade Zone (a free port).
  • A 2 mi (3.2 km) channel forms the approach to the locks from the Atlantic side.
    The Gatun Locks, a three-stage flight of locks 1¼ mi (1.9 km) long, lifts ships to the Gatun Lake level, some 87 ft (27 m) above sea level.
  • Gatun Lake, an artificial lake formed by the building of the Gatun Dam, carries vessels 15 mi (24 km) across the isthmus. It is the summit canal stretch, fed by the Gatun River and emptied by basic lock operations.
  • From the lake, the Chagres River, a natural waterway enhanced by the damming of Gatun Lake, runs about 5¼ mi (8.5 km). Here the upper Chagres River feeds the high level canal stretch.
  • The Culebra Cut slices 7¾ mi (12.4 km) through the mountain ridge, crosses the continental divide and passes under the Centennial Bridge.
  • The single-stage Pedro Miguel Lock, which is ⅞ mi (1.4 km) long, is the first part of the descent with a lift of 31 ft (9.4 m).
  • The artificial Miraflores Lake 1⅛ mi (1.7 km) long, and 54 ft (16 m) above sea level.
  • The two-stage Miraflores Locks is 1⅛ mi (1.7 km) long, with a total descent of 54 ft (16 m) at mid-tide.
  • From the Miraflores Locks one reaches Balboa harbor, again with multimodal exchange provision (here the railway meets the shipping route again). Nearby is Panama City.
  • From this harbor an entrance/exit channel leads to the Pacific Ocean (Gulf of Panama), 8¼ mi (13.2 km) from the Miraflores Locks, passing under the Bridge of the Americas.

Thus, the total length of the canal is 50 miles.

Navigation

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Pacific Side entrance

Gatun Lake

Artificially created in 1913 by damming the Chagres River, Gatun Lake is an essential part of the Panama Canal, providing the millions of gallons of water necessary to operate the Panama Canal locks each time a ship passes through. At the time it was formed, Gatun Lake was the largest human-made lake in the world. The impassable rainforest around the lake has been the best defense of the Panama Canal. Today these areas remain practically unscathed by human interference and are one of the few accessible areas where various native Central American animal and plant species can be observed undisturbed in their natural habitat.

The largest island on Gatun Lake is Barro Colorado Island. It was established for scientific study when the lake was formed, and is operated by the Smithsonian Institution. Many important scientific and biological discoveries of the tropical animal and plant kingdom originated here. Gatun Lake covers about 470 square kilometres (180 sq mi), a vast tropical ecological zone and part of the Atlantic Forest Corridor. Ecotourism on the lake has become an industry for Panamanians.

Gatun Lake also provides drinking water for Panama City and Colón. Fishing is one of the primary recreational pursuits on Gatun Lake. Non-native peacock bass were introduced by accident to Gatun Lake around 1967 by a local businessman, and have since flourished to become the dominant angling game fish in Gatun Lake. Locally called Sargento and believed to be the species Cichla pleiozona, these peacock bass originate from the Amazon, Rio Negro, and Orinoco river basins, where they are considered a premier game fish.

Lock Size

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Miter lock gate at Gatún

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Lock gate at Miraflores

The size of the locks determines the maximum size ship that can pass through. Because of the importance of the canal to international trade, many ships are built to the maximum size allowed. These are known as Panamax vessels. A Panamax cargo ship typically has a deadweight tonnage (DWT) of 65,000–80,000 tonnes, but its actual cargo is restricted to about 52,500 tonnes because of the 12.6 m (41.2 ft) draft restrictions within the canal. The longest ship ever to transit the canal was the San Juan Prospector (now Marcona Prospector), an ore-bulk-oil carrier that is 296.57 m (973 ft) long with a beam of 32.31 m (106 ft).

Initially the locks at Gatun were designed to be 28.5 m (94 ft) wide. In 1908, the United States Navy requested that an increased width of at least 36 m (118 ft) to allow the passage of U.S. Naval ships. Eventually a compromise was made and the locks were built 33.53 m (110.0 ft) wide. Each lock is 320 m (1,050 ft) long, with the walls ranging in thickness from 15 m (49 ft) at the base to 3 m (9.8 ft) at the top. The central wall between the parallel locks at Gatun is 18 m (59 ft) thick and over 24 m (79 ft) high. The steel lock gates measure an average of 2 m (6.6 ft) thick, 19.5 m (64 ft) wide, and 20 m (66 ft) high. It is the size of the locks, specifically the Pedro Miguel Locks, along with the height of the Bridge of the Americas at Balboa, that determine the Panamax metric and limit the size of ships that may use the canal.

The 2006 third set of locks project has created larger locks, allowing bigger ships to transit through deeper and wider channels. The allowed dimensions of ships using these locks increased by 25% in length, 51% in beam, and 26% in draft, as defined by New Panamax metrics.

Tolls

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Roll-on/roll-off ships, such as this one pictured here at Miraflores locks, are among the largest ships to pass through the canal.

Tolls for the canal are set by the Panama Canal Authority and are based on vessel type, size, and the type of cargo.

For container ships, the toll is assessed on the ship’s capacity expressed in twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), one TEU being the size of a standard intermodal shipping container. Effective April 1, 2016, this toll went from US$74.00 per loaded container to $60.00 per TEU capacity plus $30.00 per loaded container for a potential $90 per TEU when the ship is full. A Panamax container ship may carry up to 4,400 TEU. The toll is calculated differently for passenger ships and for container ships carrying no cargo (“in ballast”). As of April 1, 2016, the ballast rate is US$60.00, down from US$65.60 per TEU.

Passenger vessels in excess of 30,000 tons (PC/UMS), known popularly as cruise ships, pay a rate based on the number of berths, that is, the number of passengers that can be accommodated in permanent beds. The per-berth charge since April 1, 2016 is $111 for unoccupied berths and $138 for occupied berths in the Panamax locks. Started in 2007, this fee has greatly increased the tolls for such ships. Passenger vessels of less than 30,000 tons or less than 33 tons per passenger are charged according to the same per-ton schedule as are freighters. Almost all major cruise ships have more than 33 tons per passenger; the rule of thumb for cruise line comfort is generally given as a minimum of 40 tons per passenger.

Most other types of vessel pay a toll per PC/UMS net ton, in which one “ton” is actually a volume of 100 cubic feet (2.83 m3). (The calculation of tonnage for commercial vessels is quite complex.) As of fiscal year 2016, this toll is US$5.25 per ton for the first 10,000 tons, US$5.14 per ton for the next 10,000 tons, and US$5.06 per ton thereafter. As with container ships, reduced tolls are charged for freight ships “in ballast”, $4.19, $4.12, $4.05 respectively.

On 1 April 2016, a more complicated toll system was introduced, having the neopanamax locks at a higher rate in some cases, natural gas transport as a new separate category and other changes. As of October 1, 2017, there are modified tolls and categories of tolls in effect. Small (less than 125 ft) vessels up to 583 PC/UMS net tons when carrying passengers or cargo, or up to 735 PC/UMS net tons when in ballast, or up to 1,048 fully loaded displacement tons, are assessed minimum tolls based upon their length overall, according to the following table (as of 29 April 2015):

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Morgan Adams of Los Angeles, California, holds the distinction of paying the first toll received by the United States Government for the use of the Panama Canal by a pleasure boat. His boat Lasata passed through the Zone on August 14, 1914. The crossing occurred during a 6,000-mile sea voyage from Jacksonville, Florida, to Los Angeles in 1914.

The most expensive regular toll for canal passage to date was charged on April 14, 2010 to the cruise ship Norwegian Pearl, which paid US$375,600. The average toll is around US$54,000. The highest fee for priority passage charged through the Transit Slot Auction System was US$220,300, paid on August 24, 2006, by the Panamax tanker Erikoussa, bypassing a 90-ship queue waiting for the end of maintenance work on the Gatun Locks, and thus avoiding a seven-day delay. The normal fee would have been just US$13,430.

The lowest toll ever paid was 36 cents, by American Richard Halliburton who swam the Panama Canal in 1928.

In the Warner Bros. cartoon, Eight Ball Bunny, Bugs Bunny attempted to bring a penguin “home” to the South Pole. Going through the canal in a handmade canoe, Bugs complained, “Twenty-five cents to go tru DIS ting? Nah, we’ll walk foist!”

Issues Leading to Expansion


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Panorama of Pacific entrance of the canal. Left: Pacific Ocean and Puente de las Americas (Bridge of Pan-American Highway); far right: Miraflores locks.

In the 100+ years since its opening, the canal continues to enjoy great success. Even though world shipping—and the size of ships themselves—has changed markedly since the canal was designed, it continues to be a vital link in world trade, carrying more cargo than ever before, with fewer overhead costs. Nevertheless, the canal faces a number of potential concerns.

Efficiency and Maintenance

Opponents to the 1977 Torrijos-Carter Treaties feared that efficiency and maintenance would suffer following the U.S. withdrawal from the Panama Canal Zone; however, this has been proven not to be the case. Capitalizing on practices developed during the American administration, canal operations are improving under Panamanian control. Canal Waters Time (CWT), the average time it takes a vessel to navigate the canal, including waiting time, is a key measure of efficiency; according to the ACP, since 2000, it has ranged between 20 and 30 hours. The accident rate has also not changed appreciably in the past decade, varying between 10 and 30 accidents each year from about 14,000 total annual transits. An official accident is one in which a formal investigation is requested and conducted.

Increasing volumes of imports from Asia, which previously landed on U.S. West Coast ports, are now passing through the canal to the American East Coast. The total number of ocean-going transits increased from 11,725 in 2003 to 13,233 in 2007, falling to 12,855 in 2009. (The canal’s fiscal year runs from October through September.) This has been coupled with a steady rise in average ship size and in the numbers of Panamax vessels passing through the canal, so that the total tonnage carried rose from 227.9 million PC/UMS tons in fiscal year 1999 to a then record high of 312.9 million tons in 2007, and falling to 299.1 million tons in 2009. Tonnage for fiscal 2013, 2014 and 2015 was 320.6, 326.8 and 340.8 million PC/UMS tons carried on 13,660, 13,481 and 13,874 transits respectively. The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has invested nearly US$1 billion in widening and modernizing the canal, with the aim of increasing capacity by 20%. The ACP cites a number of major improvements, including the widening and straightening of the Gaillard Cut to reduce restrictions on passing vessels, the deepening of the navigational channel in Gatun Lake to reduce draft restrictions and improve water supply, and the deepening of the Atlantic and Pacific entrances to the canal. This is supported by new equipment, such as a new drill barge and suction dredger, and an increase of the tug boat fleet by 20%. In addition, improvements have been made to the canal’s operating machinery, including an increased and improved tug locomotive fleet, the replacement of more than 16 km (10 mi) of locomotive track, and new lock machinery controls. Improvements have been made to the traffic management system to allow more efficient control over ships in the canal.

In December 2010, record-breaking rains caused a 17-hour closure of the canal; this was the first closure since the United States invasion of Panama in 1989. The rains also caused an access road to the Centenario Bridge to collapse.

Capacity

The canal is currently handling more vessel traffic than had ever been envisioned by its builders. In 1934 it was estimated that the maximum capacity of the canal would be around 80 million tons per year; as noted above, canal traffic in 2015 reached 340.8 million tons of shipping.

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Gatun Lake provides the water to raise and lower vessels in the Canal, gravity fed into each set of locks

To improve capacity, a number of improvements have been made to the current canal system. These improvements aim to maximize the possible use of current locking system:

  • Implementation of an enhanced locks lighting system;
  • Construction of two tie-up stations in Gaillard Cut;
  • Widening Gaillard Cut from 192 to 218 meters (630 to 715 ft);
  • Improvements to the tugboat fleet;
  • Implementation of the carousel lockage system in Gatun locks;
  • Development of an improved vessel scheduling system;
  • Deepening of Gatun Lake navigational channels from 10.4 to 11.3 meters (34 to 37 ft) PLD;
  • Modification of all locks structures to allow an additional draft of about 0.30 meters (1 ft);
  • Deepening of the Pacific and Atlantic entrances;
  • Construction of a new spillway in Gatun, for flood control.

These improvements enlarged the capacity from 300 million PCUMS (2008) to 340 PCUMS (2012). It should be noted that these improvements were started before the new locks project, and are complementary to it.

Competition

Despite having enjoyed a privileged position for many years, the canal is increasingly facing competition from other quarters. Because canal tolls have risen as ships have become larger, some critics have suggested that the Suez Canal is now a viable alternative for cargo en route from Asia to the U.S. East Coast. The Panama Canal, however, continues to serve more than 144 of the world’s trade routes and the majority of canal traffic comes from the “all-water route” from Asia to the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts.

On June 15, 2013, Nicaragua awarded the Hong Kong-based HKND Group a 50-year concession to develop a canal through the country.

The increasing rate of melting of ice in the Arctic Ocean has led to speculation that the Northwest Passage or Arctic Bridge may become viable for commercial shipping at some point in the future. This route would save 9,300 km (5,800 mi) on the route from Asia to Europe compared with the Panama Canal, possibly leading to a diversion of some traffic to that route. However, such a route is beset by unresolved territorial issues and would still hold significant problems owing to ice.

Water Issues

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Gatun locks showing the “mule” locomotives at work

Gatun Lake is filled with rainwater, and the lake accumulates excess water during wet months. The water is lost to the oceans at a rate of 101,000 m3 (26,700,000 US gal; 22,200,000 imp gal) per downward lock cycle. Since a ship will have to go upward to Gatun Lake first and then descend, a single passing will cost double the amount; but the same waterflow cycle can be used for another ship passing in the opposite direction. The ship’s submerged volume is not relevant to this amount of water. During the dry season, when there is less rainfall, there is also a shortfall of water in Gatun Lake.

As a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact and member of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the ACP has developed an environmentally and socially sustainable program for expansion, which will protect the aquatic and terrestrial resources of the canal watershed. After completion, expansion will guarantee the availability and quality of water resources by using water-saving basins at each new lock. These water-saving basins will diminish water loss and preserve freshwater resources along the waterway by reusing water from the basins into the locks. Each lock chamber will have three water-saving basins, which will reuse 60% of the water in each transit. There are a total of nine basins for each of the two lock complexes, and a total of 18 basins for the entire project.

The mean sea level at the Pacific side is about 20 cm (8 in) higher than that of the Atlantic side due to differences in ocean conditions such as water densities and weather.

Third set of locks project (expansion)


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New Panama Canal expansion project. July 2015

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New Agua Clara locks (Atlantic side)

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Canal Lock Sizes

As demand is rising for efficient global shipping of goods, the canal is positioned to be a significant feature of world shipping for the foreseeable future. However, changes in shipping patterns —particularly the increasing numbers of larger-than-Panamax ships— necessitated changes to the canal for it to retain a significant market share. In 2006 it was anticipated that by 2011, 37% of the world’s container ships would be too large for the present canal, and hence a failure to expand would result in a significant loss of market share. The maximum sustainable capacity of the original canal, given some relatively minor improvement work, was estimated at 340 million PC/UMS tons per year; it was anticipated that this capacity would be reached between 2009 and 2012. Close to 50% of transiting vessels were already using the full width of the locks.

An enlargement scheme similar to the 1939 Third Lock Scheme, to allow for a greater number of transits and the ability to handle larger ships, had been under consideration for some time, was approved by the government of Panama, The cost was estimated at US$5.25 billion, and the expansion allowed to double the canal’s capacity, allowing more traffic and the passage of longer and wider Post-Panamax ships. The proposal to expand the canal was approved in a national referendum by about 80% on October 22, 2006. The canal expansion was built between 2007 and 2016, though completion was originally expected by the end of 2014.

The expansion plan had two new flights of locks built parallel to, and operated in addition to, the old locks: one east of the existing Gatun locks, and one southwest of the Miraflores locks, each supported by approach channels. Each flight ascends from sea level directly to the level of Gatun Lake; the existing two-stage ascent at Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks was not replicated. The new lock chambers feature sliding gates, doubled for safety, and are 427 m (1,400 ft) long, 55 m (180 ft) wide, and 18.3 m (60 ft) deep. This allows the transit of vessels with a beam of up to 49 m (160 ft), an overall length of up to 366 m (1,200 ft) and a draft of up to 15 m (49 ft), equivalent to a container ship carrying around 12,000 containers, each 6.1 m (20 ft) in length (TEU).

The new locks are supported by new approach channels, including a 6.2 km (3.9 mi) channel at Miraflores from the locks to the Gaillard Cut, skirting Miraflores Lake. Each of these channels are 218 m (720 ft) wide, which will require post-Panamax vessels to navigate the channels in one direction at a time. The Gaillard Cut and the channel through Gatun Lake were widened to at least 280 m (920 ft) on the straight portions and at least 366 m (1,200 ft) on the bends. The maximum level of Gatun Lake was raised from 26.7 m (88 ft) to 27.1 m (89 ft).

Each flight of locks is accompanied by nine water reutilization basins (three per lock chamber), each basin being about 70 m (230 ft) wide, 430 m (1,400 ft) long and 5.50 m (18 ft) deep. These gravity-fed basins allow 60% of the water used in each transit to be reused; the new locks consequently use 7% less water per transit than each of the existing lock lanes. The deepening of Gatun Lake and the raising of its maximum water level also provide capacity for significantly more water storage. These measures are intended to allow the expanded canal to operate without constructing new reservoirs.

The estimated cost of the project is US$5.25 billion. The project was designed to allow for an anticipated growth in traffic from 280 million PC/UMS tons in 2005 to nearly 510 million PC/UMS tons in 2025. The expanded canal will have a maximum sustainable capacity of about 600 million PC/UMS tons per year. Tolls will continue to be calculated based on vessel tonnage, and in some cases depend on the locks used.

An article in the February 2007 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine described the plans for the canal expansion, focusing on the engineering aspects of the expansion project. There is also a follow-up article in the February 2010 issue of Popular Mechanics.

On September 3, 2007, thousands of Panamanians stood across from Paraíso Hill in Panama to witness a huge initial explosion and launch of the Expansion Program. The first phase of the project was the dry excavations of the 218 meters (715 feet) wide trench connecting the Gaillard Cut with the Pacific coast, removing 47 million cubic meters of earth and rock. By June 2012, a 30 m reinforced concrete monolith had been completed, the first of 46 such monoliths which will line the new Pacific-side lock walls. By early July 2012, however, it was announced that the canal expansion project had fallen six months behind schedule, leading expectations for the expansion to open in April 2015 rather than October 2014, as originally planned. By September 2014, the new gates were projected to be open for transit at the “beginning of 2016.”

It was announced in July 2009 that the Belgian dredging company Jan De Nul, together with a consortium of contractors consisting of the Spanish Sacyr Vallehermoso, the Italian Impregilo, and the Panamanian company Grupo Cusa, had been awarded the contract to build the six new locks for US$3.1 billion, which was one billion less than the next highest competing bid due to having a concrete budget 71% percent smaller than that of the next bidder and allotted roughly 25% less for steel to reinforce that concrete. The contract resulted in $100 million in dredging works over the next few years for the Belgian company and a great deal of work for its construction division. The design of the locks is a carbon copy of the Berendrecht Lock, which is 68 m wide and 500 m long, making it the largest lock in the world. Completed in 1989 by the Port of Antwerp, which De Nul helped build, the company still has engineers and specialists who were part of that project.

In January 2014, a contract dispute threatened the progress of the project. There was a delay of less than two months however, with work by the consortium members reaching goals by June 2014.

In June 2015, flooding of the new locks began: first on the Atlantic side, then on the Pacific; by then, the canal’s re-inauguration was slated for April 2016. On March 23, 2016, the expansion inauguration was set for June 26, 2016.

The new locks opened for commercial traffic on 26 June 2016, and the first ship to cross the canal using the third set of locks was a modern New Panamax vessel, the Chinese-owned container ship Cosco Shipping Panama. The original locks, now over 100 years old, allow engineers greater access for maintenance, and are projected to continue operating indefinitely.

The total cost is unknown since the expansion’s contractors are seeking at least an addition US$3.4 billion from the canal authority due to excess expenses.

Rival Colombia Rail Link

China is investigating a proposal to construct a 220 km (137 mi) railway between Colombia’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts.

Rival Nicaragua Canal

On July 7, 2014, Wang Jing, chairman of the HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. Ltd. (HKND Group) advised that a route for Nicaragua’s proposed canal had been approved. The construction work was projected by HKND to begin in 2014 and take 5 years., although there has been little progress whilst a series of environmental impact assessments are being made. The Nicaraguan parliament has approved plans for the 173-mile canal through Nicaragua, and according to the deal, the company will be responsible for operating and maintaining the canal for a 50-year period. The government of Nicaragua hopes this will boost the economy; the opposition is concerned with its environmental impact. According to the independent impact assessment by British firm ERM, some 30,000 local residents will be displaced by the canal, although opposition leaders and Amnesty International claim the figure will be in the hundreds of thousands. Supporters and the environmental impact study claim there will be net environmental benefits, but critics argue that nearly a million acres of delicate ecosystems will be destroyed by the time construction is completed.

OtherProjects

Individuals, companies, and governments have explored the possibility of constructing deep water ports and rail links connecting coasts as a “dry canal” in Guatemala, Costa Rica, and El Salvador/Honduras. However, plans to construct these sea-rail-sea links have yet to materialize.

Panama Canal Honorary Pilots


During the last one hundred years, the Panama Canal Authority has appointed a few “Panama Canal Honorary Pilots”. The most recent of these were Commodore Ronald Warwick, a former Master of the Cunard Liners RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 and RMS Queen Mary 2, who has traversed the Canal more than 50 times, and Captain Raffaele Minotauro, an Unlimited Master Senior Grade, of the former Italian governmental navigation company known as the “Italian Line”.

Suez Canal Area Development Project

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Suez Canal Corridor Area Project (Arabic: مشروع تطوير محور قناة السويس‎) is a mega project in Egypt that was launched on 5 August 2014 by president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The project’s aim is to increase the role of the Suez Canal region in international trading and to develop the three canal cities: Suez, Ismailia, and Port Said.

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The project involves building a new city (new Ismailia city), an industrial zone, fish farms, completing the technology valley, building seven new tunnels between Sinai and Ismailia and Port Said, improving five existing ports, and digging a new canal parallel to the Suez Canal. The new canal will increase the canal capacity by allowing ships to sail into both directions at the same time for a greater proportion of the canal. The project will transfer the canal cities into an important trading center globally. It will also build new centers on the Suez Canal for logistic and ship services.

el-Sisi announced that the new Suez Canal project will operate after a year (instead of three years). The project’s authority said that the revenues of the canal will increase from 5 billion dollars to 12.5 billion dollars yearly. The new Suez Canal and the seven tunnels are under construction simultaneously. Construction of the rest of the projects (which include building the city, industrial zone, technology valley, and fish farms) will begin in February 2015.

The project is also known as “The Great Egyptian Dream” because it will help the economy of Egypt reheal after many years of unrest and corruption.

The Egyptian Armed Forces participate in the project by helping in designing and digging the canal and the tunnels. It also protects the project’s location from terrorists in Sinai.

History


The Suez Canal Corridor Developing Project dates back to 1970s when Hassaballah El Kafrawy (former Minister of Housing) proposed the project to President Anwar al Sadat, but due to problems, the project didn’t start. He proposed the project again to Hosni Mubarak in the 1990s but it did not work either. Engineer Hassaballah El Kafrawy sought to turn the canal corridor into an important international region rather than just a passageway for ships.

In 2008, the former Minister of Transportation Mohamed Mansour again proposed the project. However, the Egyptian government again did not take any serious steps to start the project.

In 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood introduced a development project for the Suez Canal region during the presidential elections. In 2013, Prime Minister Hesham Qandil began studying the project and announced that the government would begin to plan for the project.

Projects


New Suez Canal

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New Suez Canal close up

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The New Suez Canal (Egyptian Arabic: قناة السويس الجديدة‎ Kanāt El Sewēs El Gedīda) is the name of an artificial waterway project in Egypt which created a second shipping lane along part of the Suez Canal. Also, other parts of the Suez Canal were deepened and widened. The project was inaugurated by the Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority Mohab Mamish in the presence of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on 5 August 2014. The new canal was opened one year later in a ceremony attended by several international dignitaries including the then French President François Hollande.

The New Suez Canal is expected to expand trade along the fastest shipping route between Europe and Asia. The new canal allows ships to sail to both directions in the same time. This decreases waiting hours from 18 to 11 hours for most ships. The expansion is expected to double the capacity of the Suez Canal from 49 to 97 ships a day.

The New Suez Canal is 72 km (45 mi) long, including 35 km (22 mi) of dry digging, and 37 km (23 mi) of “expansion and deep digging” to provide a second shipping lane in the existing 164-kilometre-long (102 mi) canal, allowing for separated passing of ships in opposite directions. It also includes the deepening and expansion of a 37-kilometre-long (23 mi) section of the existing canal. The construction, which was scheduled to take three years, was instead ordered by the President to be completed in a year. The chairman of the Suez Canal Authority announced that the revenues from the Suez Canal (after the completion of the New Suez Canal) will jump from 5 billion dollars to 12.5 billion dollars annually. The Egyptian government said that these revenues will be used to transform the cities along the Canal (Ismaïlia, Suez, and Port Said) into international trading centers. The government has also said that many new projects in the Suez province are being studied as a result of enlarging the Suez Canal capacity, such as building a new industrial zone, fish farms, and the completion of the valley of technology (wadi al thechnologia).

The project cost around 30 billion Egyptian pounds and no foreign investors were allowed to invest in the project, but rather Egyptians were urged to participate in funding the project through bank certificates of deposit initially yielding 12%, later raised to 15.5%. After President Sisi announced the new megaproject, Egypt’s stocks rose to the highest level in the past six years. The Egyptian Armed Forces participated in the project by helping in digging and designing the canal.

The enlarged capacity allows ships to sail in both directions at the same time over much of the canal’s length. Beforehand, much of the canal was only one shipping lane wide, with limited wider basins for passing. This is expected to decrease waiting time from 11 hours to 3 hours for most ships, and to increase the capacity of the Suez Canal from 49 to 97 ships a day.

Progress

Technical difficulties initially arose, such as the flooding of the new canal through seepage from the existing canal. Nevertheless, work on the New Suez Canal was completed in July 2015. The channel was officially inaugurated with a ceremony attended by foreign leaders and featuring military fly-pasts on 6 August 2015, in accordance with the budgets laid out for the project.

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Benefits, Costs, and Risks

Egyptian officials especially the chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, Vice-Admiral Mohab Mamish stated that the $8.2 billion project, which expands capacity to 97 ships per day, will more than double annual revenues to some $13.5 billion by 2023. That, however, would require yearly growth of 10%. A recent forecast from the IMF suggests that in the decade up to 2016 the annual rate of growth for global merchandise trade will have averaged 3.4%.

About 18 scientists writing in the academic journal Biological Invasions in 2014 expressed concern about the project impacting the biodiversity and the ecosystem services of the Mediterranean Sea. They called on Egypt to assess the environmental effects that the canal expansion could cause, a request echoed by the executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Over 1,000 invasive species have entered the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal since its original construction in the mid-19th century, with human activities becoming a leading cause of the decline of the sea’s biodiversity, according to the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

Initially, the project was to be financed through a stock market IPO, allowing partial private ownership of the project. However, the government quickly changed its financing strategy, relying on interest-bearing investment certificates that do not confer any ownership rights to investors. The certificates were issued by the Suez Canal Authority with an interest rate of 12%.

Revenues

The government has blocked access to the official revenues reports for three months after the opening. It then published two reports for August and September, which showed consecutive decreases in the total Suez Canal revenues by 10% or $150 million.

Seven New Tunnels

The chairman of the Suez Canal authority announced that seven new tunnels will be dug to connect the Sinai Peninsula to the Egyptian homeland. Three tunnels will be dug in Port Said (two for cars and one for railways) and four will be dug in Ismaïlia (two for cars, one for railways, and one for other special uses).

The tunnels will cost 4.2 billion dollars (approximately about 30 billion Egyptian pounds). The first three tunnels will cost 18 billion Egyptian pounds and Arab Contractors and Orascom are the builders for this project. The Armed Forces Engineering Authority are normally tasked with infrastructure projects and will help with digging the tunnels.

Floating Bridge

The Al-Nasr floating bridge to enable people to easily travel back and forth between Port Said and Port Fouad was built successfully and inaugurated in late 2016. The bridge extends from opposite banks, with the help of tugboats that push both parts until they connect to form a bridge that can be traversed by cars. It is 420 meters long. This was an important step towards the efficient movement of equipment and manpower.

Technology Valley

The technology valley is an old project that has stopped for about 17 years and now the government announced to re-continue the project. The project’s location lies on the eastern part of Ismaïlia city and consists of four stages: the first stage covers 3021 acres, the second stage covers 4082 acres, the third stage covers 4837 acres, and the fourth stage covers 4160 acres. However, before seventeen years when the project started it completed only 108 acres and then stopped for seventeen years.

The technology valley will be the first step in starting Egypt’s electronics industry for manufacturing technological devices.

Industrial Zone

This project will cover 910 acres of land north west of gulf of Suez. The first stage of the project covers 132 acres and it is done with a cost of 20 million Egyptian pounds. The second stage is 132 acres and it is not yet done. Currently there are 23 factories operating and 56 still under construction. upon finishing the project it will provide 9386 work opportunities.

The chairman of the Suez Canal authority announced that the government will build eighteen new factories in the industrial zone which will include: glass factory, car assembling factory, electronics factory, medicines factory, textiles factory, furniture factory, paper factory, sugar factory, food factory, petrochemicals factory, petrol refining factory, light metal manufacturing factory, and a minerals factory.

The chairman of the Suez Canal authority also said that ship factories and services will be built among the Suez Canal corridor which includes: catering and services center for ships, ship manufacturing and repair center, a center for manufacturing and repairing containers, and logistic redistribution centers.

New Ismailia City

This project will create “New Ismailia City”, which will cover 16500 acres of land. This new city will be created to accommodate approximately 500,000 Egyptians in order to relieve the pressure from the crowded towns of Cairo and the delta cities. The location of this city is designed to accommodate the workers of the nearby Wadi Al-technologiya (Technology Valley) which will be built in following years.

Fish Farming

The National Project for Fish Farming, new fish farms were built on the eastern side of the Suez Canal. The project includes twenty three tanks that cover 120 square km with depth of 3-5m. It covers the area from southern Tafrea to the gulf of Suez. This project is designed to produce high quality fish food. The project included the building of solar panels that produce Up to 2500 megawatts and reform 400,000 acres of land in northern Sinai into farming land using the El Salam Canal.

Russian Industrial Zone

During a state visit to Russia, President Sisi said that he had agreed with his Russian counterpart President Vladimir Putin to establish a Russian industrial zone in the new project. However, no more information was given about the project. So the Russian industrial zone is still a proposed project with no studies so far.

Developing Existing Ports


Western Port-said Port

Western Port-said Port lies on the northern entrance of the Suez Canal and is considered one of the most important ports in Egypt because of its location on the entrance of the Suez Canal.

The port covers an area of 2.9 square km (the land area is 1.2 square km and the remaining 1.7 square km is water area). The port contains 37 docks which includes docks for passengers, yachts, and general goods. The port is divided into stations and each station contains a number of docks with its own working area (that includes repairing centers, equipment center, and stores). The maximum capacity of the port is 12 million tons yearly.

Eastern Port-said Port

Eastern Port-said Port lies on the north western entrance of the Suez Canal branch which is a unique location because it connects 3 continents. The design of the port is geometrically ideal. The port was built in 2004 to serve international trading and act as a transit center between the continents.

The port borders the Mediterranean Sea from the north, the industrial zone from the south, the salty lakes from the east, and the Suez Canal branch from the west. The port covers an area of 35 square km.

The port authority plans to build docks the will reach 12 km long and an industrial zone south of the port covering 78 square km. Three stages are still remaining to fully complete and improve the port:

  • Stage one is creating 8 stations with docks 8 km long
  • Stage two is creating 15 station with docks 16 km long
  • Stage three is creating 21 stations with docks 25 km long

El-Sokhna Port

El-Sokhna Port lies on the southern entrance of the Suez Canal.

The port’s total size is 24,919,337.85 square m:

  • 3,400,000 square m is the water area
  • 21,519,337 square m is the land area
  • 1,000,000 square m is the Customs center
  • The largest dock’s size is 7 km long and 5.5 km wide

In 2008, an Emirati company bought the port and announced the plan to build a new 1.3 km dock to work with more than 1 million containers yearly. It also said that a general goods center will be built.

The port serves the oil and gas fields in the region. It exports products from the petrochemicals and refining factories in Ein al Sokhna region. It also exports the products of a ceramic factory, ammonia factory, and a sugar factory.

Arish Port

Arish Port lies on the Mediterranean Sea on the northern coast of Arish city. in 1996 the port was transformed from a fishing port to a trading ships port.

The port contains a dock which is 242m long that can serve huge ships. There is another dock which is 122m long that serves smaller ships. The port also includes covered storage areas which cover 2 square km and non-covered storage areas which cover more than 2.7 square km. On 5 June 2014 the port was no longer controlled by the Port Said port authority, the Ministry of Defence took control of it due to its sensitive location. The port contains a lighthouse that can be seen from up to 18 miles. The main importance of the port is that it exports Sinai products to the Mediterranean countries.

New projects:

  • Build a 2 km dock which will include containers station and a general goods station
  • Build new storage areas
  • Build a dock for yachts
  • Build new logistic centers

El-Adabiya Port

El-Adabiya Port lies on the western side of the Suez Canal, about 17 km from Suez city. The Red Sea Ports Authority in Egypt controls the port.

El-Adabiya Port consists of 9 docks which reach 1840m long and 42–27 foot deep. the water area is about 158 square km (which is also shared with the Suez Canal port and Petroleum Dock port) and the land area is 0.8 square km. The maximum carrying capacity of the port reaches 6.7 million tons yearly.

In 2014, the Suez Canal Corridor Project Authority announced that El-Adabiya Port will be improved after the completion of the new Suez Canal to serve more ships.

Suez Canal

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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The Suez Canal (Arabic: قناة السويس‎ qanāt as-suwēs) is an artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea through the Isthmus of Suez. Constructed by the Suez Canal Company between 1859 and 1869, it was officially opened on November 17, 1869. The canal offers watercraft a shorter journey between the North Atlantic and northern Indian Oceans via the Mediterranean and Red seas by avoiding the South Atlantic and southern Indian oceans, in turn reducing the journey by approximately 7,000 kilometres (4,300 mi). It extends from the northern terminus of Port Said to the southern terminus of Port Tewfik at the city of Suez. Its length is 193.30 km (120.11 mi), including its northern and southern access channels. In 2012, 17,225 vessels traversed the canal (47 per day).

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Suez Canal Cruise Ship

The original canal was a single-lane waterway with passing locations in the Ballah Bypass and the Great Bitter Lake. It contains no locks system, with seawater flowing freely through it. In general, the canal north of the Bitter Lakes flows north in winter and south in summer. South of the lakes, the current changes with the tide at Suez.

The canal is owned and maintained by the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) of Egypt. Under the Convention of Constantinople, it may be used “in time of war as in time of peace, by every vessel of commerce or of war, without distinction of flag”.

In August 2014, construction was launched to expand and widen the Ballah Bypass for 35 km (22 mi) to speed the canal’s transit time. The expansion was planned to double the capacity of the Suez Canal from 49 to 97 ships a day. At a cost of $8.4 billion, this project was funded with interest-bearing investment certificates issued exclusively to Egyptian entities and individuals. The “New Suez Canal”, as the expansion was dubbed, was opened with great fanfare in a ceremony on 6 August 2015.

On 24 February 2016, the Suez Canal Authority officially opened the new side channel. This side channel, located at the northern side of the east extension of the Suez Canal, serves the East Terminal for berthing and unberthing vessels from the terminal. As the East Container Terminal is located on the Canal itself, before the construction of the new side channel it was not possible to berth or unberth vessels at the terminal while the convoy was running.

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Precursors


Ancient west–east canals were built to facilitate travel from the Nile River to the Red Sea. One smaller canal is believed to have been constructed under the auspices of Senusret II or Ramesses II. Another canal, probably incorporating a portion of the first, was constructed under the reign of Necho II, but the only fully functional canal was engineered and completed by Darius I.

2nd millennium BC

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The southern terminus of the Suez Canal at Suez on the Gulf of Suez (Red Sea)

The legendary Sesostris (likely either Pharaoh Senusret II or Senusret III of the Twelfth dynasty of Egypt) may have started work on an ancient canal joining the Nile with the Red Sea (1897 BC – 1839 BC), when an irrigation channel was constructed around 1850 BC that was navigable during the flood season, leading into a dry river valley east of the Nile River Delta named Wadi Tumelat. (It is said that in ancient times the Red Sea reached northward to the Bitter Lakes and Lake Timsah.)

In his Meteorology, Aristotle wrote:

One of their kings tried to make a canal to it (for it would have been of no little advantage to them for the whole region to have become navigable; Sesostris is said to have been the first of the ancient kings to try), but he found that the sea was higher than the land. So he first, and Darius afterwards, stopped making the canal, lest the sea should mix with the river water and spoil it.

Strabo wrote that Sesostris started to build a canal, and Pliny the Elder wrote:

165. Next comes the Tyro tribe and, the harbour of the Daneoi, from which Sesostris, king of Egypt, intended to carry a ship-canal to where the Nile flows into what is known as the Delta; this is a distance of over 60 miles. Later the Persian king Darius had the same idea, and yet again Ptolemy II, who made a trench 100 feet wide, 30 feet deep and about 35 miles long, as far as the Bitter Lakes.

In the second half of the 19th century, French cartographers discovered the remnants of an ancient north–south canal past the east side of Lake Timsah and ending near the north end of the Great Bitter Lake. This proved to be the celebrated canal made by the Persian king Darius I, as his stele commemorating its construction was found at the site. (This ancient, second canal may have followed a course along the shoreline of the Red Sea when it once extended north to Lake Timsah.) In the 20th century the northward extension of this ancient canal was discovered, extending from Lake Timsah to the Ballah Lakes. This was dated to the Middle Kingdom of Egypt by extrapolating the dates of ancient sites along its course.

The reliefs of the Punt expedition under Hatshepsut, 1470 BC, depict seagoing vessels carrying the expeditionary force returning from Punt. This suggests that a navigable link existed between the Red Sea and the Nile. Recent excavations in Wadi Gawasis may indicate that Egypt’s maritime trade started from the Red Sea and did not require a canal. Evidence seems to indicate its existence by the 13th century BC during the time of Ramesses II.

Canals dug by Necho, Darius I and Ptolemy

Remnants of an ancient west–east canal through the ancient Egyptian cities of Bubastis, Pi-Ramesses, and Pithom were discovered by Napoleon Bonaparte and his engineers and cartographers in 1799.

According to the Histories of the Greek historian Herodotus, about 600 BC, Necho II undertook to dig a west–east canal through the Wadi Tumilat between Bubastis and Heroopolis, and perhaps continued it to the Heroopolite Gulf and the Red Sea. Regardless, Necho is reported as having never completed his project.

Herodotus was told that 120,000 men perished in this undertaking, but this figure is doubtless exaggerated. According to Pliny the Elder, Necho’s extension to the canal was about 57 English miles, equal to the total distance between Bubastis and the Great Bitter Lake, allowing for winding through valleys. The length that Herodotus tells, of over 1000 stadia (i.e., over 114 miles (183 km)), must be understood to include the entire distance between the Nile and the Red Sea at that time.

With Necho’s death, work was discontinued. Herodotus tells that the reason the project was abandoned was because of a warning received from an oracle that others would benefit from its successful completion. Necho’s war with Nebuchadnezzar II most probably prevented the canal’s continuation.

Necho’s project was completed by Darius I of Persia, who ruled over Ancient Egypt after it had been conquered by his predecessor Cambyses II. It may be that by Darius’s time a natural waterway passage which had existed between the Heroopolite Gulf and the Red Sea in the vicinity of the Egyptian town of Shaluf (alt. Chalouf or Shaloof), located just south of the Great Bitter Lake, had become so blocked with silt that Darius needed to clear it out so as to allow navigation once again. According to Herodotus, Darius’s canal was wide enough that two triremes could pass each other with oars extended, and required four days to traverse. Darius commemorated his achievement with a number of granite stelae that he set up on the Nile bank, including one near Kabret, and a further one a few miles north of Suez. The Darius Inscriptions read:

Saith King Darius: I am a Persian. Setting out from Persia, I conquered Egypt. I ordered this canal dug from the river called the Nile that flows in Egypt, to the sea that begins in Persia. When the canal had been dug as I ordered, ships went from Egypt through this canal to Persia, even as I intended.

— Darius Inscription

The canal left the Nile at Bubastis. An inscription on a pillar at Pithom records that in 270 or 269 BC, it was again reopened, by Ptolemy II Philadelphus. In Arsinoe, Ptolemy constructed a navigable lock, with sluices, at the Heroopolite Gulf of the Red Sea, which allowed the passage of vessels but prevented salt water from the Red Sea from mingling with the fresh water in the canal.

Receding Red Sea and the dwindling Nile

The Red Sea is believed by some historians to have gradually receded over the centuries, its coastline slowly moving southward away from Lake Timsah and the Great Bitter Lake. Coupled with persistent accumulations of Nile silt, maintenance and repair of Ptolemy’s canal became increasingly cumbersome over each passing century.

Two hundred years after the construction of Ptolemy’s canal, Cleopatra seems to have had no west–east waterway passage, because the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, which fed Ptolemy’s west–east canal, had by that time dwindled, being choked with silt.

Old Cairo to the Red Sea

By the 8th century, a navigable canal existed between Old Cairo and the Red Sea, but accounts vary as to who ordered its construction—either Trajan or ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, or Omar the Great. This canal was reportedly linked to the River Nile at Old Cairo and ended near modern Suez. A geography treatise by Dicuil reports a conversation with an English monk, Fidelis, who had sailed on the canal from the Nile to the Red Sea during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the first half of the 8th century

The Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur is said to have ordered this canal closed in 767 to prevent supplies from reaching Arabian detractors.

Repair by al-Ḥākim

Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah is claimed to have repaired the Cairo to Red Sea passageway, but only briefly, circa 1000 AD, as it soon “became choked with sand.” However, we are told that parts of this canal still continued to fill in during the Nile’s annual inundations.

Conception by Venice

The successful 1488 navigation of southern Africa by Bartolomeu Dias opened a direct maritime trading route to India and the spice islands, and forever changed the balance of Mediterranean trade. One of the most prominent losers in the new order, as former middlemen, was the former spice trading center of Venice.

Venetian leaders, driven to desperation, contemplated digging a waterway between the Red Sea and the Nile—anticipating the Suez Canal by almost 400 years—to bring the luxury trade flooding to their doors again. But this remained a dream.

— Colin Thubron, Seafarers: The Venetians (1980), p. 102

Despite entering negotiations with Egypt’s ruling Mamelukes, the Venetian plan to build the canal was quickly put to rest by the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517, led by Sultan Selim I

Napoleon’s discovery of an ancient canal

During the French campaign in Egypt and Syria in late 1798, Napoleon showed an interest in finding the remnants of an ancient waterway passage. This culminated in a cadre of archaeologists, scientists, cartographers and engineers scouring northern Egypt. Their findings, recorded in the Description de l’Égypte, include detailed maps that depict the discovery of an ancient canal extending northward from the Red Sea and then westward toward the Nile.

Later, Napoleon, who would become French Emperor in 1804, contemplated the construction of a north–south canal to connect the Mediterranean with the Red Sea. But the plan was abandoned because it wrongly concluded that the waterway would require locks to operate. These would be very expensive and take a long time to construct. This decision was based on an erroneous belief that the Red Sea was 10 m (33 ft) higher than the Mediterranean. The error was the result of using fragmentary survey measurements taken in wartime during Napoleon’s Egyptian Expedition. In 1819 the Pacha of Egypt undertook some canal work.

However, as late as 1861, the unnavigable ancient route discovered by Napoleon from Bubastis to the Red Sea still channeled water in spots as far east as Kassassin.

History


Interim period

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Bathymetric chart, northern Gulf of Suez, route to Cairo, 1856

Although the alleged difference in sea levels could be problematic for construction, the idea of finding a shorter route to the east remained alive. In 1830, F. R. Chesney submitted a report to the British government that stated that there was no difference in altitude and that the Suez Canal was feasible, but his report received no further attention. Lieutenant Waghorn established his “Overland Route”, which transported post and passengers to India via Egypt. Linant de Bellefonds, a French explorer of Egypt, became chief engineer of Egypt’s Public Works. In addition to his normal duties, he surveyed the Isthmus of Suez and made plans for the Suez Canal. French Saint-Simonianists showed an interest in the canal and in 1833, Barthélemy Prosper Enfantin tried to draw Muhammad Ali’s attention to the canal but was unsuccessful. Alois Negrelli, the Austrian railroad pioneer, became interested in the idea in 1836. In 1846, Prosper Enfantin’s Société d’Études du Canal de Suez invited a number of experts, among them Robert Stephenson, Negrelli and Paul-Adrien Bourdaloue to study the feasibility of the Suez Canal (with the assistance of Linant de Bellefonds). Bourdaloue’s survey of the isthmus was the first generally accepted evidence that there was no practical difference in altitude between the two seas. Britain, however, feared that a canal open to everyone might interfere with its India trade and therefore preferred a connection by train from Alexandria via Cairo to Suez, which was eventually built by Stephenson.

Construction by the Suez Canal Company

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1881 drawing of the Suez Canal

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Suez Canal, Egypt. early 1900s. Goodyear Archival Collection. Brooklyn Museum

In 1854 and 1856, Ferdinand de Lesseps obtained a concession from Sa’id Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt and Sudan, to create a company to construct a canal open to ships of all nations. The company was to operate the canal for 99 years from its opening. De Lesseps had used his friendly relationship with Sa’id, which he had developed while he was a French diplomat in the 1830s. As stipulated in the concessions, Ferdinand convened the International Commission for the piercing of the isthmus of Suez (Commission Internationale pour le percement de l’isthme des Suez) consisting of 13 experts from seven countries, among them John Robinson McClean, later President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in London, and again Negrelli, to examine the plans developed by Linant de Bellefonds, and to advise on the feasibility of and the best route for the canal. After surveys and analyses in Egypt and discussions in Paris on various aspects of the canal, where many of Negrelli’s ideas prevailed, the commission produced a unanimous report in December 1856 containing a detailed description of the canal complete with plans and profiles. The Suez Canal Company (Compagnie universelle du canal maritime de Suez) came into being on 15 December 1858 and work started on the shore of the future Port Said on 25 April 1859.

The excavation took some 10 years using forced labour (corvée) of Egyptian workers during the first years. Some sources estimate that over 30,000 people were working on the canal at any given period, that more than 1.5 million people from various countries were employed, and that thousands of labourers died, many of them from cholera and similar epidemics.

The British government had opposed the project from the outset to its completion. As one of the diplomatic moves against the canal, it disapproved of the use of “slave labour” of forced workers. The British Empire was the major global naval force and officially condemned the forced work and sent armed Bedouins to start a revolt among workers. Involuntary labour on the project ceased, and the viceroy condemned the corvée, halting the project.

Angered by the British opportunism, de Lesseps sent a letter to the British government remarking on the British lack of remorse a few years earlier when forced workers died in similar conditions building the British railway in Egypt.

Initially international opinion was skeptical and Suez Canal Company shares did not sell well overseas. Britain, Austria, and Russia did not buy a significant number of shares. All French shares were quickly sold in France. A contemporary British skeptic claimed “One thing is sure… our local merchant community doesn’t pay practical attention at all to this grand work, and it is legitimate to doubt that the canal’s receipts… could ever be sufficient to recover its maintenance fee. It will never become a large ship’s accessible way in any case.”

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One of the first traverses in the 19th century

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Predominant currents in the Mediterranean Sea for June

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Suez Canal in February 1934. Air photograph taken by Swiss pilot and photographer Walter Mittelholzer

The canal opened under French control on 17 November 1869. Although numerous technical, political, and financial problems had been overcome, the final cost was more than double the original estimate. The opening was performed by Khedive Isma’il Pasha of Egypt and Sudan, and at Ismail’s invitation French Empress Eugenie in the Imperial yacht L’Aigle piloted by Napoléon Coste, who was bestowed by the Khedive the Ottoman Order of the Medjidie.

The first ship to follow L’Aigle through the canal was the British P&O liner Delta. Although L’Aigle was officially the first vessel through the canal, HMS Newport, captained by George Nares, passed through it first. On the night before the canal was due to open, Captain Nares navigated his vessel, in total darkness and without lights, through the mass of waiting ships until it was in front of L’Aigle. When dawn broke, the French were horrified to find that the Royal Navy was first in line and that it would be impossible to pass them. Nares received both an official reprimand and an unofficial vote of thanks from the Admiralty for his actions in promoting British interests and for demonstrating such superb seamanship. An Anchor Line ship, the S.S. Dido, became the first to pass through the Canal from South to North.

After the opening, the Suez Canal Company was in financial difficulties. The remaining works were completed only in 1871, and traffic was below expectations in the first two years. De Lesseps therefore tried to increase revenues by interpreting the kind of net ton referred to in the second concession (tonneau de capacité) as meaning a ship’s cargo capacity and not only the theoretical net tonnage of the “Moorsom System” introduced in Britain by the Merchant Shipping Act in 1854. The ensuing commercial and diplomatic activities resulted in the International Commission of Constantinople establishing a specific kind of net tonnage and settling the question of tariffs in its protocol of 18 December 1873. This was the origin of the Suez Canal Net Tonnage and the Suez Canal Special Tonnage Certificate, both of which are still in use today.

Company rule after opening

The canal had an immediate and dramatic effect on world trade. Combined with the American transcontinental railroad completed six months earlier, it allowed the world to be circled in record time. It played an important role in increasing European colonization of Africa. The construction of the canal was one of the reasons for the Panic of 1873, because goods from the Far East were carried in sailing vessels around the Cape of Good Hope and were stored in British warehouses. As sailing vessels were not adaptable for use through the canal, because the prevailing winds of the Mediterranean blow from west to east, British entrepôt trade suffered. External debts forced Said Pasha’s successor, Isma’il Pasha, to sell his country’s share in the canal for £4,000,000 (about £87.2 million in 2016) to the United Kingdom in 1875, but French shareholders still held the majority. Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli was accused by William Ewart Gladstone of undermining Britain’s constitutional system, because he had not referred to, or obtained consent from Parliament when purchasing the shares with funding from the Rothschilds.

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The Canal, ca 1914

The Convention of Constantinople in 1888 declared the canal a neutral zone under the protection of the British, who had occupied Egypt and Sudan at the request of Khedive Tewfiq to suppress the Urabi Revolt against his rule. The revolt went on from 1879 to 1882. As a result of British involvement on the side of Khedive Tewfiq, Britain gained control of the canal in 1882. The British defended the strategically important passage against a major Ottoman attack in 1915, during the First World War. Under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, the UK retained control over the canal. The canal was again strategically important in the 1939–1945 Second World War, and Italo-German attempts to capture it were repulsed during the North Africa Campaign, during which the canal was closed to Axis shipping. In 1951 Egypt repudiated the treaty and in October 1954 the UK agreed to remove its troops. Withdrawal was completed on 18 July 1956.

Suez Crisis

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Smoke rises from oil tanks beside the Suez Canal hit during the initial Anglo-French assault on Port Said, 5 November 1956

Because of Egyptian overtures towards the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States withdrew their pledge to support the construction of the Aswan Dam. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser responded by nationalizing the canal on 26 July 1956 and transferring it to the Suez Canal Authority, intending to finance the dam project using revenue from the canal. On the same day that the canal was nationalized Nasser also closed the Straits of Tiran to all Israeli ships. This led to the Suez Crisis in which the UK, France, and Israel invaded Egypt. According to the pre-agreed war plans under the Protocol of Sèvres, the Israelis invaded the Sinai Peninsula, forcing Egypt to engage them militarily, and allowing the Anglo-French partnership to declare the resultant fighting a threat to stability in the Middle East and enter the war – officially to divide the two forces but in reality to regain the Canal and bring down the Nasser regime.

To save the British from what he thought was a disastrous action and to stop the war from a possible escalation, Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs Lester B. Pearson proposed the creation of the first United Nations peacekeeping force to ensure access to the canal for all and an Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula. On 4 November 1956, a majority at the United Nations voted for Pearson’s peacekeeping resolution, which mandated the UN peacekeepers to stay in Sinai unless both Egypt and Israel agreed to their withdrawal. The United States backed this proposal by putting pressure on the British government through the selling of sterling, which would cause it to depreciate. Britain then called a ceasefire, and later agreed to withdraw its troops by the end of the year. Pearson was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. As a result of damage and ships sunk under orders from Nasser the canal was closed until April 1957, when it was cleared with UN assistance. A UN force (UNEF) was established to maintain the free navigability of the canal, and peace in the Sinai Peninsula.

According to the historian Abd aI-Azim Ramadan, Nasser’s decision to nationalize the Suez Canal was his alone, made without political or military consultation. The events leading up to the nationalization of the Suez Canal Company, as other events during Nasser’s rule, showed Nasser’s inclination to solitary decision making. Ramadan considered Nasser to be far from a rational, responsible leader.

Arab–Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973

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Egyptian vehicles crossing the Suez Canal on October 7, 1973, during the Yom Kippur War

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Israeli tank crossing the Suez Canal, 1973

In May 1967, Nasser ordered the UN peacekeeping forces out of Sinai, including the Suez Canal area. Israel objected to the closing of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. The canal had been closed to Israeli shipping since 1949, except for a short period in 1951–1952.

After the 1967 Six Day War, Israeli forces occupied the Sinai peninsula, including the entire east bank of the Suez Canal. Unwilling to allow the Israelis to use the canal, Egypt immediately imposed a blockade which closed the canal to all shipping until 5 June 1975. As a result, 15 cargo ships, known as the “Yellow Fleet”, were trapped in the canal for over eight years.

In 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, the canal was the scene of a major crossing by the Egyptian army into Israeli-occupied Sinai and a counter-crossing by the Israeli army to Egypt. Much wreckage from this conflict remains visible along the canal’s edges. After the Yom Kippur War the United States initiated Operation Nimbus Moon. The amphibious assault ship USS Inchon (LPH-12) was sent to the Canal, carrying 12 RH-53D minesweeping helicopters of HM-12. These partly cleared the canal between May and December 1974. She was relieved by the LST USS Barnstable County (LST1197). The British Royal Navy initiated Operation Rheostat and Task Group 65.2 provided for Operation Rheostat One (six months in 1974), the minehunters HMS Maxton, HMS Bossington, and HMS Wilton, the Fleet Clearance Diving Team (FCDT) and HMS Abdiel, a practice minelayer/MCMV support ship; and for Operation Rheostat Two (six months in 1975) the minehunters HMS Hubberston and HMS Sheraton, and HMS Abdiel. When the Canal Clearance Operations were completed, the canal and its lakes were considered 99% clear of mines. The canal was then reopened by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat aboard an Egyptian destroyer, which led the first convoy northbound to Port Said in 1975. At his side stood the Iranian Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, delegated to represent his father, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. The cruiser USS Little Rock was the only American naval ship in the convoy.

The UNEF mandate expired in 1979. Despite the efforts of the United States, Israel, Egypt, and others to obtain an extension of the UN role in observing the peace between Israel and Egypt, as called for under the Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty of 1979, the mandate could not be extended because of the veto by the Soviet Union in the UN Security Council, at the request of Syria. Accordingly, negotiations for a new observer force in the Sinai produced the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), stationed in Sinai in 1981 in coordination with a phased Israeli withdrawal. It is there under agreements between the United States, Israel, Egypt, and other nations.

Bypass Expansion

In the summer of 2014, months after taking office as President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ordered the expansion of the Ballah Bypass from 61 metres wide to 312 metres wide for 35 kilometers. The project was called the New Suez Canal, as it would allow ships to transit the canal in both directions simultaneously. The project cost more than $8 billion and was completed within one year. Sisi declared the expanded channel open for business in a ceremony on 6 August 2015.

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Container ship Hanjin Kaohsiung transiting the Suez Canal

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USS America (CV-66), an American aircraft carrier in the Suez Canal

Timeline

  • Circa 1799 – Napoleon Bonaparte conquers Egypt and orders a feasibility analysis. This reports a supposed 10-metre (33 ft) difference in sea levels and a high cost, so the project is put on hold.
  • Circa 1840 – A second survey finds the first analysis incorrect. A direct link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea is possible and not as expensive as previously estimated.
  • 30 November 1854 – The former French consul in Cairo, Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps, obtains the first license for construction and subsequent operation from the Viceroy for a period of 99 years.
    6 January 1856 – de Lesseps is provided with a second, more detailed license.
  • 15 December 1858 – de Lesseps establishes the “Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez”, with Said Pasha acquiring 22% of the Suez Canal Company; the majority is controlled by French private holders.
  • 25 April 1859 – construction officially starts.
  • 17 November 1869 – The canal is opened, owned and operated by Suez Canal Company.
  • 18 December 1873 – The International Commission of Constantinople establishes the Suez Canal Net Ton and the Suez Canal Special Tonnage Certificate (as known today)
  • 25 November 1875 – Britain becomes a minority share holder in the company, acquiring 44%, with the remainder being controlled by French business syndicates.
  • 20 May 1882 – Britain invades Egypt, with French assistance, and begins its occupation of Egypt.
  • 25 August 1882 – Britain takes control of the canal.
  • 2 March 1888 – The Convention of Constantinople renews the guaranteed right of passage of all ships through the canal during war and peace; these rights were already part of the licenses awarded to de Lesseps, but are recognised as international law.
  • 14 November 1936 – Following a new treaty, Britain theoretically pulls out of Egypt, but establishes the ‘Suez Canal Zone’ under its control.
  • 13 June 1956 – Suez Canal Zone is restored to Egyptian sovereignty, following British withdrawal and years of negotiations.
  • 26 July 1956 – Egypt nationalizes the company; its Egyptian assets, rights and obligations are transferred to the Suez Canal Authority, which compensates the previous owners at the established pre-nationalization price. Egypt closes the canal to Israeli shipping as part of a broader blockade involving the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba.
  • 31 October 1956 to 24 April 1957 – the canal is blocked to shipping following the Suez Crisis, a conflict that leads to Israeli, and later French and British, occupation of the canal zone.
  • 22 December 1956 – The canal zone is restored to Egyptian control, following French and British withdrawal, and the landing of UNEF troops.
  • 5 June 1967 to 10 June 1975 – the canal is blocked by Egypt, following the war with Israel; it becomes the front line during the ensuing War of Attrition and the
  • 1973 war, remaining closed to international shipping, until general agreement was near.
  • 1 January 2008 – New rules of navigation passed by the Suez Canal Authority come into force.
  • 6 August 2015 – The new canal extensions are opened.

Leadership

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Ferdinand de Lesseps, developer of the Suez Canal

Presidents of the Suez Canal Company (1858–1956):

  • Ferdinand de Lesseps (15 December 1858 – 7 December 1894)
  • Jules Guichard (17 December 1892 – 17 July 1896) (acting for de Lesseps to 7 December 1894)
  • Auguste-Louis-Albéric, prince d’Arenberg (3 August 1896 – 1913)
  • Charles Jonnart (19 May 1913 – 1927)
  • Louis de Vogüé (4 April 1927 – 1 March 1948)
  • François Charles-Roux (4 April 1948 – 26 July 1956)

Chairmen of the Suez Canal Authority (1956–present):

  • Doctor Mohamed Helmy Bahgat Badawy (26 July 1956 – 9 July 1957)
  • Engineer Mahmoud Younis (10 July 1957 – 10 October 1965)
  • Engineer Mashhour Ahmed Mashhour (14 October 1965 – 31 December 1983)
  • Engineer Mohamed Ezzat Adel (1 January 1984 – December 1995)
  • Admiral Ahmed Ali Fadel (22 January 1996 – Aug 2012)
  • Admiral Mohab Mamish (2012 – present)

Layout and Operation

When built, the canal was 164 km (102 mi) long and 8 m (26 ft) deep. After several enlargements, it is 193.30 km (120.11 mi) long, 24 m (79 ft) deep and 205 metres (673 ft) wide. It consists of the northern access channel of 22 km (14 mi), the canal itself of 162.25 km (100.82 mi) and the southern access channel of 9 km (5.6 mi).

The so-called New Suez Canal, functional since 6 August 2015, currently has a new parallel canal in the middle part, with its length over 35 km (22 mi). The current parameters of the Suez Canal, including both individual canals of the parallel section are: depth 23 to 24 metres (75 to 79 ft) and width at least 205 to 225 metres (673 to 738 ft) (that width measured at 11 metres (36 ft) of depth).

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Capacity

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Ships moored at El Ballah during transit

The canal allows passage of ships up to 20 m (66 ft) draft or 240,000 deadweight tons and up to a height of 68 m (223 ft) above water level and a maximum beam of 77.5 m (254 ft) under certain conditions. The canal can handle more traffic and larger ships than the Panama Canal, as Suezmax dimensions are greater than both Panamax and New Panamax. Some supertankers are too large to traverse the canal. Others can offload part of their cargo onto a canal-owned boat to reduce their draft, transit, and reload at the other end of the canal.

Navigation

The canal has no locks because of the flat terrain, and the minor sea level difference between each end is inconsequential for shipping. As the canal has no sea surge gates, the ports at the ends would be subject to the sudden impact of tsunamis from the Mediterranean Sea and Red Sea, according to a 2012 article in the Journal of Coastal Research.

There is one shipping lane with passing areas in Ballah-Bypass near El Qantara and in the Great Bitter Lake. On a typical day, three convoys transit the canal, two southbound and one northbound. The passage takes between 11 and 16 hours at a speed of around 8 knots (15 km/h; 9 mph). The low speed helps prevent erosion of the banks by ships’ wakes.

By 1955, about two-thirds of Europe’s oil passed through the canal. Around 8% of world sea trade is carried via the canal. In 2008, 21,415 vessels passed through the canal and the receipts totaled $5.381 billion, with an average cost per ship of $251,000.

New Rules of Navigation came into force on 1 January 2008, passed by the board of directors of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) to organise vessels’ transit. The most important amendments include allowing vessels with 62-foot (19 m) draught to pass, increasing the allowed breadth from 32 metres (105 ft) to 40 metres (130 ft) (following improvement operations), and imposing a fine on vessels using divers from outside the SCA inside the canal boundaries without permission. The amendments allow vessels loaded with dangerous cargo (such as radioactive or flammable materials) to pass if they conform with the latest amendments provided by international conventions.

The SCA has the right to determine the number of tugs required to assist warships traversing the canal, to achieve the highest degree of safety during transit.

Operation

As of July 2015, the canal was too narrow for free two-way traffic, so ships pass in convoys and they use bypasses. The by-passes are 78 km (48 mi) out of 193 km (120 mi) (40%). From north to south, they are: Port Said by-pass (entrances) 36.5 km (23 mi), Ballah by-pass & anchorage, 9 km (6 mi), Timsah by-pass 5 km (3 mi), and the Deversoir by-pass (northern end of the Great Bitter Lake) 27.5 km (17 mi). The bypasses were completed in 1980.

Typically, it takes a ship 12 to 16 hours to transit the canal. The canal’s 24-hour capacity is about 76 standard ships.

In August 2014, Egypt chose a consortium that includes the Egyptian army and global engineering firm Dar Al-Handasah to develop an international industrial and logistics hub in the Suez Canal area, and began the construction of a new canal section from km 60 to km 95 combined with expansion and deep digging of the other 37 km of the canal. This will allow navigation in both directions simultaneously in the 72 km long central section of the canal. These extensions were formally opened on 6 August 2015 by President Al-Sisi.

Convoy Sailing

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October 2014: the northbound convoy is waiting in the Great Bitter Lake, the southbound convoy pass

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The canal in 2015

Since the canal does not cater to unregulated two-way traffic, all ships transit in convoys on regular times, scheduled on a 24-hour basis. Each day, a single northbound convoy starts at 04:00 from Suez. At dulka lane sections, the convoy uses the eastern route. Synchronised with this convoy’s passage is the southbound convoy. It starts at 03:30 from Port Said and so passes the Northbound convoy in the two-lane section.

Canal Crossings

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Post-deepening, a capesize bulk carrier approaches the Friendship Bridge

From north to south, the crossings are:

  • The Suez Canal Bridge (30.828248°N 32.317572°E), also called the Egyptian-Japanese Friendship Bridge, a high-level road bridge at El Qantara. In Arabic, al qantara means “arch”. Opened in 2001, it has a 70-metre (230 ft) clearance over the canal and was built with assistance from the Japanese government and by Kajima.
  • El Ferdan Railway Bridge (30.657°N 32.334°E) 20 km (12 mi) north of Ismailia (30°35′N 32°16′E) was completed in 2001 and is the longest swing-span bridge in the world, with a span of 340 m (1100 ft). The previous bridge was destroyed in 1967 during the Arab-Israeli conflict.
  • Pipelines taking fresh water under the canal to Sinai, about 57 km (35 mi) north of Suez, at 30°27.3′N 32°21.0′E.
  • Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel (30°5′9″N 32°34′32″E) south of the Great Bitter Lake (30°20′N 32°23′E) was built in 1983. Because of leakage problems, a new water-tight tunnel was built inside the old one from 1992 to 1995.
  • The Suez Canal overhead powerline crossing (29.996°N 32.583°E) was built in 1999.
    A railway on the west bank runs parallel to the canal for its entire length.

Six new tunnels for cars and trains are also planned across the canal. Currently the Ahmed Hamdi is the only tunnel connecting Suez to the Sinai.

Alternative Routes


Cape Agulhas

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A graphical comparison between the Northern Sea Route (blue) and an alternative route through Suez Canal (red)

The main alternative is around Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa, commonly referred as the Cape of Good Hope route. This was the only sea route before the canal was constructed, and when the canal was closed. It is still the only route for ships that are too large for the canal. In the early 21st century, the Suez Canal has suffered from diminished traffic due to piracy in Somalia, with many shipping companies choosing to take the long route instead. Between 2008 and 2010, it is estimated that the canal lost 10% of traffic due to the threat of piracy, and another 10% due to the financial crisis. An oil tanker going from Saudi Arabia to the United States has 2,700 mi (4,345 km) longer to go when taking the route south of Africa rather than the canal.

Before the canal’s opening in 1869, goods were sometimes offloaded from ships and carried overland between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

Northern Sea Route

In recent years, the shrinking Arctic sea ice has made the Northern Sea Route feasible for commercial cargo ships between Europe and East Asia during a six-to-eight-week window in the summer months, shortening the voyage by thousands of miles compared to that through the Suez Canal. According to polar climate researchers, as the extent of the Arctic summer ice pack recedes the route will become passable without the help of icebreakers for a greater period each summer.

The Bremen-based Beluga Group claimed in 2009 to be the first Western company to attempt using the Northern Sea Route without assistance from icebreakers, cutting 4000 nautical miles off the journey between Ulsan, Korea and Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Negev Desert Railroad

Israel has declared that it will construct a railroad through the Negev desert to compete with the canal, with construction partly financed by China.

Environmental Impact


The opening of the canal created the first salt-water passage between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Although the Red Sea is about 1.2 m (4 ft) higher than the eastern Mediterranean, the current between the Mediterranean and the middle of the canal at the Bitter Lakes flows north in winter and south in summer. The current south of the Bitter Lakes is tidal, varying with the tide at Suez. The Bitter Lakes, which were hypersaline natural lakes, blocked the migration of Red Sea species into the Mediterranean for many decades, but as the salinity of the lakes gradually equalised with that of the Red Sea the barrier to migration was removed, and plants and animals from the Red Sea have begun to colonise the eastern Mediterranean. The Red Sea is generally saltier and more nutrient-poor than the Atlantic, so the Red Sea species have advantages over Atlantic species in the less salty and nutrient-rich eastern Mediterranean. Accordingly, most Red Sea species invade the Mediterranean biota, and only few do the opposite. This migratory phenomenon is called Lessepsian migration (after Ferdinand de Lesseps) or “Erythrean invasion”. Also impacting the eastern Mediterranean, starting in 1968, was the operation of Aswan High Dam across the Nile. While providing for increased human development, the project reduced the inflow of freshwater and ended all natural nutrient-rich silt entering the eastern Mediterranean at the Nile Delta. This provided less natural dilution of Mediterranean salinity and ended the higher levels of natural turbidity, additionally making conditions more like those in the Red Sea.

Invasive species originated from the Red Sea and introduced into the Mediterranean by the canal have become a major component of the Mediterranean ecosystem and have serious impacts on the ecology, endangering many local and endemic species. About 300 species from the Red Sea have been identified in the Mediterranean, and there are probably others yet unidentified. The Egyptian government’s intent to enlarge the canal has raised concerns from marine biologists, fearing that this will worsen the invasion of Red Sea species.

Construction of the canal was preceded by cutting a small fresh-water canal called Sweet Water Canal from the Nile delta along Wadi Tumilat to the future canal, with a southern branch to Suez and a northern branch to Port Said. Completed in 1863, these brought fresh water to a previously arid area, initially for canal construction, and subsequently facilitating growth of agriculture and settlements along the canal.

A Tight Squeeze: Corinth Canal, Greece

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The famous Corinth Canal connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. It cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth and separates the Peloponnesian peninsula from the Greek mainland, thus effectively making the former an island.

The canal is 6.4 kilometers in length and only 21.3 meters wide at its base. Earth cliffs flanking either side of the canal reach a maximum height of 63 meters. Aside from a few modest sized cruise ships, the Corinth Canal is unserviceable to most modern ships.

The Corinth Canal, though only completed in the late 19th century, was an idea and dream that dates back over 2000 thousand years.

Before it was built, ships sailing between the Aegean and Adriatic had to circumnavigate the Peloponnese adding about 185 nautical miles to their journey.

The first to decide to dig the Corinth Canal was Periander, the tyrant of Corinth (602 BCE). Such a giant project was above the technical capabilities of ancient times so Periander carried out another great project, the diolkós, a stone road, on which the ships were transferred on wheeled platforms from one sea to the other.

Dimitrios Poliorkitis, king of Macedon (c. 300 BCE), was the second who tried, but his engineers insisted that if the seas where connected, the more northerly Adriatic, mistakenly thought to be higher, would flood the more southern Aegean.

At the time, it was also thought that Poseidon, god of the sea, opposed joining the Aegean and the Adriatic. The same fear also stopped Julius Caesar and emperors Hadrian and Caligula.

The most serious try was that of Emperor Nero (67 CE). He had 6,000 slaves for the job. He started the work himself, digging with a golden hoe, while music was played. However, he was killed before the work could be completed.

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Will it pass?

In the modern era, the first who thought seriously to carry out the project was Capodistrias (c. 1830), first governor of Greece after the liberation from the Ottoman Turks. But the budget, estimated at 40 million French francs, was too much for the Greek state.

Finally, in 1869, the Parliament authorized the Government to grant a private company (Austrian General Etiene Tyrr) the privilege to construct the Canal of Corinth. Work began on Mar 29, 1882, but Tyrr’s capital of 30 million francs proved to be insufficient.

The work was restarted in 1890, by a new Greek company (Andreas Syggros), with a capital of 5 million francs. The job was finally completed and regular use of the Canal started on Oct 28, 1893.

Due to the canal’s narrowness, navigational problems and periodic closures to repair landslips from its steep walls, it failed to attract the level of traffic anticipated by its operators. It is now used mainly for tourist traffic. The bridge above is perfect for bungee jumping.

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CORINTH CANAL MAP

The Corinth Canal, Greece

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Corinth Canal

The Corinth Canal (Greek: Διώρυγα της Κορίνθου, Dhioryga tis Korinthou) is a canal that connects the Gulf of Corinthwith the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. It cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth and separates the Peloponnesefrom the Greek mainland, thus effectively making the former peninsula an island. The builders dug the canal through the Isthmus at sea level; no locks are employed. It is 6.4 kilometres (4 mi) in length and only 21.4 metres (70 ft) wide at its base, making it impossible for most modern ships. It now has little economic importance.

The canal was mooted in classical times and an abortive effort was made to build it in the 1st century AD. Construction finally got under way in 1881 but was hampered by geological and financial problems that bankrupted the original builders. It was completed in 1893 but, due to the canal’s narrowness, navigational problems and periodic closures to repairlandslides from its steep walls, it failed to attract the level of traffic expected by its operators. It is now used mainly for tourist traffic.

History

Ancient Attempts

Several rulers in antiquity dreamed of digging a cutting through the Isthmus. The first to propose such an undertaking was the tyrant Periander in the 7th century BC. The project was abandoned and Periander instead constructed a simpler and less costly overland portage road, named the Diolkos or stone carriageway, along which ships could be towed from one side of the isthmus to the other. Periander’s change of heart is attributed variously to the great expense of the project, a lack of labour or a fear that a canal would have robbed Corinth of its dominant role as an entrepôt for goods. Remnants of the Diolkos still exist next to the modern canal.

The Diadoch Demetrius Poliorcetes (336–283 BC) planned to construct a canal as a means to improve his communication lines, but dropped the plan after his surveyors, miscalculating the levels of the adjacent seas, feared heavy floods.

The philosopher Apollonius of Tyana prophesied that ill would befall anyone who proposed to dig a Corinthian canal. Three Roman rulers considered the idea but all suffered violent deaths; the historian Suetonius tells us that the Roman dictator Julius Caesar considered digging a canal through the isthmus but was assassinated before he could commence the project. Caligula, his successor as the third Roman Emperor, commissioned a study in AD 40 from Egyptian experts who claimed incorrectly that the Corinthian Gulf was higher than the Saronic Gulf. As a result, they concluded, if a canal was dug the island of Aegina would be inundated. Caligula’s interest in the idea got no further as he too was assassinated.

The emperor Nero was the first to actually attempt to construct the canal, personally breaking the ground with a pickaxe and removing the first basket-load of soil in AD 67, but the project was abandoned when he died shortly afterwards. The Roman workforce, consisting of 6,000 Jewish prisoners of war, started digging 40–50 m (130–160 ft) wide trenches from both sides, while a third group at the ridge drilled deep shafts for probing the quality of the rock (which were reused in 1881 for the same purpose). According to Suetonius, the canal was dug to a distance of four stades (approximately 700 metres (2,300 ft), in other words about a tenth of the total distance across the isthmus). A memorial of the attempt in the form of a relief of Hercules was left by Nero’s workers and can still be seen in the canal cutting today. Other than this, as the modern canal follows the same course as Nero’s, no remains have survived.

The philosopher and Roman senator Herodes Atticus is also known to have considered digging a canal in the 2nd century AD, but did not manage to get a project under way. The Venetians also considered it in 1687 after their conquest of the Peloponnese but likewise did not initiate a project.

Construction of the Modern Canal

The idea of a Corinth Canal was revived after Greece gained formal independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830. The Greek statesman Ioannis Kapodistrias asked a French engineer to assess the feasibility of the project but had to abandon it when its cost was assessed at some 40 million gold francs—far too expensive for the newly independent country. Fresh impetus was given by opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the following year, the government of Prime Minister Thrasyvoulos Zaimis passed a law authorising the construction of a Corinth Canal. French entrepreneurs were put in charge but, following the bankruptcy of the French company that dug Panama Canal, French banks refused to lend money and the company went bankrupt too. A fresh concession was granted to the Société Internationale du Canal Maritime de Corinthe in 1881, which was commissioned to construct the canal and operate it for the next 99 years. Construction was formally inaugurated on 23 April 1882 in the presence of King George I of Greece.

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The Inauguration of the Corinth Canal (1893) by Konstantinos Volanakis. CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE

The company’s initial capital was some 30,000,000 francs, but after eight years of work it ran out of money and a bid to issue 60,000 bonds of 500 francs each flopped when less than half of the bonds were sold. The company’s head, the Hungarian István Türr, went bankrupt, as did the company itself and a bank that had agreed to raise additional funds for the project. Construction resumed in 1890 when the project was transferred to a Greek company, and was finally completed on 25 July 1893 after eleven years’ work.

The canal experienced financial and operational difficulties after completion. The narrowness of the canal makes navigation difficult; its high rock walls channel high winds down its length, and the different times of the tides in the two gulfs cause strong tidal currents in the channel. For these reasons, many ship operators did not bother to use the canal and traffic was far below what had been predicted. An annual traffic of just under 4 million net tons had been anticipated but by 1906 traffic had reached only half a million net tons annually. By 1913 the total had risen to some 1.5 million net tons, but the disruption caused by the First World War produced a major decline in traffic.

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The Corinth Canal seen from the airCLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE

Another persistent problem was due to the heavily faulted nature of the sedimentary rock, in an active seismic zone, through which the canal is cut. The canal’s high limestone walls have been persistently unstable from the start. Although it was formally opened in July 1893 it was not opened to navigation until the following November, due to landslides. It was soon found that the wake from ships passing through the canal undermined the walls, causing further landslides. This required further expense in building retaining walls along the water’s edge for somewhat more than half of the length of the canal, utilising some 165,000 cubic metres of masonry. Between 1893 and 1940, it was closed for a total of four years for maintenance to stabilise the walls. In 1923 alone, 41,000 cubic metres of material fell into the canal, which took two years to clear out.

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Aerial photograph of the Corinth Canal area (2011). CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE

Serious damage was caused to the canal during World War II, when it was the scene of fighting due to its strategic importance. On 26 April 1941, during the Battle of Greece between defending British troops and the invading forces of Nazi Germany, German parachutists and glider troops attempted to capture the main bridge over the canal. The bridge was defended by the British and had been wired for demolition. The Germans were able to surprise the defenders with a glider-borne assault in the early morning of 26 April and captured the bridge, but the British were able to set off the charges and destroy the structure. Other authors maintain that German pioneers did cut the cables, thus securing the bridge, and it was a lucky shell by British artillery that triggered the explosion.

Three years later, as German forces retreated from Greece, the canal was put out of action by German “scorched earth” operations. German forces used explosives to set off landslips to block the canal, destroyed the bridges and dumped locomotives, bridge wreckage and other infrastructure into the canal to hinder repair work. The United States Army Corps of Engineers began work to clear the canal in November 1947 and managed to reopen it for shallow-draft traffic by 7 July 1948, and for all traffic by that September.

Layout

The canal consists of a single channel 8 metres (26 ft) deep, excavated at sea level (thus requiring no locks), measuring 6,346 metres (20,820 ft) long by 24.6 metres (81 ft) wide at the top and 21.3 metres (70 ft) wide at the bottom. The rock walls, which rise 90 metres (300 ft) above sea level, are at a near-vertical 80° angle. The canal is crossed by a railway line, a road and a motorway at a height of about 45 metres (148 ft). In 1988 submersible bridges were installed at sea level at each end of the canal, by the eastern harbour of Isthmia and the western harbour of Poseidonia.

Although the canal saves the 700-kilometre (430 mi) journey around the Peloponnese, it is too narrow for modern ocean freighters, as it can only accommodate ships of a width of up to 17.6 metres (58 ft) and a draft of 7.3 metres (24 ft). Ships can only pass through the canal one convoy at a time on a one-way system. Larger ships have to be towed by tugs. The canal is nowadays mostly used by tourist ships; 11,000 ships per year travel through the waterway.

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The location of the Isthmus of Corinth; the canal is shown in light blue. CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE