The idea of digging a canal linking the Mediterranean to the Red Sea dates back to ancient times. Unlike the modern Canal, earlier ones linked the Red Sea to the Nile, therefore forcing the ships to sail along the River on their journey from Europe to India. It has been suggested that the first Canal was dug during the reign of Tuthmosis III, although more solid evidence credits the Pharaoh Necho (Sixth Century BC) for the attempt.
During the Persian invasion of Egypt, King Darius I ordered the Canal completed. The Red Sea Canal has two outlets, first linking the Gulf of Suez to the Great Bitter Lake, and the second connecting the Lake to one of the Nile branches in the Delta. The canal remained in good condition during the Ptolemaic era, but fell into disrepair afterwards. It was re-dug during the rule of the Roman Emperor Trajan, and later the Arab ruler Amr Ibn-Al-Aas. Over the years, it fell again into disrepair, and was completely abandoned upon the discovery of the trade route around Africa.
It was Napoleon's engineers who, around 1800 AD, revived the idea of a shorter trade route to India via a Suez Canal.
However, the calculations carried out by the French engineers showed a difference in level of 10 meters between both seas. If constructed under such circumstances, a large land area would be flooded. Later, the calculations showed to be wrong, and the final attempt to dig the Canal was undertaken by former French Consul in Cairo and famous Canal digger Ferdinand de Lesseps. He was granted a "firman" or decree by the khedive Said of Egypt to run the Canal for 99 years after completion.
In 1859, Egyptian workers started digging of the Canal in conditions described by historians as slave labor, and the project was completed around 1867. On November 17, 1869, the Canal was officially inaugurated by Khedive Ismail in an extravagant and lavish ceremony. French, British, Russian, and other Royalty were invited for the inauguration which coincided with the re-planning of Cairo.
A highway was constructed linking Cairo to the new city of Ismailia, an Opera House was built, and Verdi was commissioned to compose his famous opera, "Aida" for the opening ceremony. Ironically, Verdi did not complete the work in time and "Aida" premiered at the Cairo Opera a year later.
Characteristics of the present canal:
-Overall length: 190.250 km.
-From the fairway buoy to Port-Said lighthouse 19.500 km.
-From the waiting area to the southern entrance 8.500 km.
-From Port-Said to Ismailia 78.500 km.
-From Ismailia to Port-Tawfik 83.750 km.
-The length of doubled parts 78.000 km.
-Width at water level (North / South) 345/280 m.
-Width between buoys (North / South) 215/195 m.
-Depth of the Canal 22.5 m.
-Maximum Permissible draught for ships 62 ft.
-Cross sectional area 4800/4350 m2.
-Maximum dead weight tonnage 210000 tons.
-Permissible speed for loaded tankers 13 km/hr.
-Permissible speed for ballast tankers and ships.
Advantages of the Canal:
-Longest canal in the world with no locks.
-Compared with other waterways, the percentage of accidents is almost nil. Navigation goes day and night.
-Liable to be widened and deepened when required coping with the expansion in ship sizes.
-The VTMS (Vessel Traffic Management System) has been introduced. It is a very accurate electronic system envisaging a most up-to-date radar network.
-The Suez Canal can now accommodate all mammoth tankers in service on their ballast trips.
Influence of the Suez Canal on world trade:
-The distance between Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) and the Port of Constanza (Black Sea) is 11771 miles via the Cape of Good Hope, while it is only 1698 miles via the Suez Canal (SC), thus a saving of 86% in distance is achieved.
-A saving of 23% in distance is also achieved by using the SC for the trip from Rotterdam in Holland to Tokyo in Japan, if compared with the route round the African coast.
-7% of sea transported world trade passes through the Suez Canal, 35% of this trade is loaded from and to the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf ports, 20% from and to the Indian and South East Asian ports and 39% from and to the Far East area.
Traffic system in the Suez Canal
Ships transit the Canal in three convoys daily:
-The first: from Port-Said at 100 hrs.
-The second: from Port-Said at 700 hrs.
-The third: from Suez at 600 hrs.
-Pilotage is compulsory for all kinds of transiting ships, and four pilots are successively credited with piloting each ship.
-A speed limit is imposed in the Canal for transiting ships; it varies from 13 to l4 km per hour according to the category and tonnage of ships, but in the southern sector it varies between 11-14 km per hour depending on wind velocity and direction of tidal current.
-On the average, it takes a ship 12-15 hours to transit the Canal.