Egypt makes progress on Suez Canal expansion after 2021 blockage

Global trade channel will be deeper, wider and have a 10km bypass to avoid repeat of shutdown

Port Said, at the northern end of the Suez Canal. More than 12 per cent of the world's maritime traffic uses the waterway. Photo: Logos Hope
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After recording the highest revenue in its history in 2022, Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority has announced progress in developing the waterway and services through upgrading the canal and adding to its fleet.

This plan, announced in 2019, will widen and deepen a southern stretch of the canal to reduce the risk of giant container ships running aground.

It also includes the dredging of a 10km bypass to allow ships to transit in both directions simultaneously.

The SCA said on Tuesday it had completed 81 per cent of its deepening and widening efforts of the southern sector and more than 46 per cent of the new bypass.

The greater part of the canal’s length consists of a single traffic lane, which ships have to take turns navigating.

Two bypasses exist along the canal that allow ships to move in both directions simultaneously. One is located in the north running to the east of the Mediterranean city of Port Said.

The other was created by President Abdel Fattah El Sisi during his first term in office. Completed in 2015, the dredging of the second bypass was one of Egypt's largest national projects of the past decade.

In another development, the authority unveiled on Tuesday the third tugboat manufactured through a joint programme with Chinese maritime engineers from the Guangzhou Shipyard International Company.

At a ceremony held at the Port Said on Monday, the Egyptian flag was raised on the new tugboat — named Amin Zeid, after a maritime engineer who launched the authority’s current rescue operations department.

The tug is part of an agreement for six vessels with Guangzhou Shipyard International. The deal sees three tugs built in Guangzhou, southern China, and three in Port Said by Egyptian engineers with Chinese oversight.

The Amin Zeid measures 32m by 12.8m and has a tugging power of 75 tonnes, the SCA said.

In addition to the joint Chinese programme, the SCA is also seeking to manufacture 22 tugs with pulling power of 70 tonnes.

The authority also plans to manufacture 10 tugs with an 85-tonne pulling power and two larger ones that can tow up to 200 tonnes, it said, without specifying a timescale.

These initiatives are part of efforts to localise Egypt's maritime industries and reduce reliance on vessels lent from other countries.

The authority had to bring in rescue vessels from Japan and the Netherlands when 400m container ship the MV Ever Given ran aground in March 2021, halting traffic for six days.

Foreign tugs worked alongside SCA vessels to dislodge the 200,000 tonne ship.

Earlier this week, the authority signed an agreement with Antipollution, a Greek port facilities and waste management company. It will set up an Egyptian subsidiary to make the canal’s operations greener.

In the past year, the SCA has increased its revenue by record rates every month.

Revenue reached an all-time high of $8 billion for 2022.

On Wednesday, the authority announced revenue for the first quarter of this year of $2.07 billion — 40 per cent higher than the same period last year.

More than 12 per cent of the world's maritime traffic goes through the Suez Canal each year, making it one of Egypt's most essential sources of foreign currency.

Updated: March 22, 2023, 1:18 PM