Suez Canal Crisis: History, significance of the waterway
Suez Canal is the world’s longest canal without locks and its importance lies in its strategic location.
Suez Canal, an artificial waterway, has been blocked for a nearly week now after a giant cargo ship MV Ever Given got stuck, blocking hundred of ships and sending the world of maritime commerce into a frenzy. The canal, which was opened almost 150 years ago, is a vital international shipping passage for the world.
Here is all you need to know about the history and significance of the Suez Canal waterway.
Where is Suez Canal Located and who built it?
Suez Canal is a man-made sea-level waterway situated in Egypt, connecting the Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean via Suez, a city in Egypt on the Red Sea.
The Ottoman Empire appointed ruler Said Pasha, which ruled and governed the large areas of the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and North Africa for more than 600 years, granted permission to French diplomat and engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps in the mid-18th century to build the canal. The construction began in early 1859 at the northernmost Port Said end of the canal and took 10 years to build the canal with an estimated 1.5 million people working on the project.
It was first opened in 1869, at that time it was 164 kilometers long and eight meters deep. However, it went through regular expansions and modernisation to accommodate a large number of ships and to allow navigation at night as well. A major expansion took place in 2015 which made the waterway 193.30 kilometers long and 24 meters deep.
What is the significance of the Suez Canal?
Suez Canal is the world’s longest canal without locks and its importance lies in its strategic location. Apart from connecting various bodies of water at differing altitudes, it is the only place that directly connects the waters of Europe with the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Asia-Pacific region. As there are no locks to interrupt, the transit time is about 13 hours to 15 hours and is the fastest crossing from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean.
For example, the distance between the ports of the Gulf and London become almost half by going through the Suez in comparison to the alternate route via the southern tip of Africa, which is expensive and extends the journey time.
Around 50 ships on average used the 193-kilometer long canal daily in 2019. The authorities believe that the traffic is expected to double by 2023.
How many times has the Canal been closed?
According to the Suez Canal Authority, which maintains and operates the waterway, the Suez Canal has closed five times since it opened for navigation in 1869. The first time it was closed was back in 1956 when the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser announced the nationalisation of the Suez Canal in an effort to go against European colonial domination. The escalated tensions between Britain, France, and Israel, famously known as the Suez Crisis, led to the canal's closure for months.
The second time Suez Canal was blocked when Egypt and Israel entered into a war in 1967. The tensions between the two nations forced the Suez Canal to remain blocked for almost eight years. It was opened in 1975 after Egypt and Israel signed a diplomatic agreement.
Since then, Suez Canal has been blocked three times for various accidental groundings of vessels. In 2004, the Tropic Brilliance, an oil tanker, got lodged in the waterway leading to three days halt. In 2006, the Okal King Dor got stuck in the waterway leading to a temporary blockage in the canal. Later in 2017, the waterway was again disturbed after the OOCL Japan ship reported a malfunction in the steering gear causing a blockage of the canal.
The fact that one mishap could make the world’s maritime commerce come to halt tells how Suez Canal is the key to the global supply chain. The colossal giant ship, which is currently blocking the waterway, has stopped 10 per cent of global maritime commercial traffic. So, if the Ever Given ship remains there for a prolonged duration, the incident could send tremours in the global trade.