Suez Canal chief says southern stretch to be deepened and expanded

The announcement comes after container ship Ever Given blocked the canal for days

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The southern stretch of the Suez Canal is set to be widened and deepened after one of the world’s largest container vessels became lodged across the channel stopping all global trade through the vital waterway earlier this year.

Suez Canal chairman Osama Rabie announced the plans on Tuesday in a televised event with President Abdel Fattah El Sisi.

By 2023, the authority plans to have widened the 30-kilometre stretch of waterway between the city of Suez and the Bitter Lakes area by 40 meters eastwards. The same section will also be dragged from 20 meters deep to 22.

A second canal lane further north that was inaugurated by President El Sisi in 2015 to allow two-directional traffic will be extended by 10km to a total length of 82km, allowing more ships to pass, Mr Rabie said.

The earlier expansion and the latest announcements will increase the canal's capacity from 49 vessels per day in 2014 to 97 vessels per day by 2023. It will mean an increase in canal revenue from $5.3 billion in 2014 to $13.2bn by 2023.

Mr El Sisi, speaking at the same event, said he does not want to mobilise “huge” public funding for the project as the government did when expanding the canal years earlier.

He said “we’re not in a hurry” for the project to be completed.

The plan comes after the container vessel Ever Given lost control and became wedged across the waterway in March. It took a massive effort involving crews of tug boats and dredgers to clear the mud around the ship and refloat the massive 400-metre vessel.

The authority will also strengthen its rescue operations by purchasing large tug capacity vessels that are equipped to deal with such giant container ships.

Ten per cent of global trade traffic passes through the canal, which is also an important source of Egyptian national income.

By the time the Ever Given was freed on March 29, there were 422 ships waiting at the northern and southern entrances of the canal, Mr Rabie said. The waiting ships and their cargos were cleared in four days.

Egyptian authorities impounded the hulking Ever Given and are demanding hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation.

An Egyptian court last week rejected an appeal by the owner of Ever Given over the court-ordered seizure. The Suez Canal Authority said the vessel would not be allowed to leave the country until an agreement was reached with the ship's Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha.

The Suez Canal Authority reduced its compensation claim, which covers losses due to the blockage and costs for dislodging the ship, from $916 million to $600m over the weekend.

However, UK Club, an insurer of the Ever Given, said on Monday the claim was still "exceptionally large".

Other announced projects on Tuesday include a museum highlighting the history of the Suez Canal and an 80,000 square-metre stadium with a capacity of 22,000 spectators.