Digging has been completed on the New Suez Canal and the waterway is ready to receive ships of all kinds, head of the Canal Authority Mohab Mamish announced in a triumphant press conference Wednesday.
Mamish described the completion of the new canal — a 72 kilometer channel that runs alongside the original canal — as history-making and epic, harking back to the dredging of the first canal almost 150 years ago.
Three container ships safely crossed the new stretch of the canal during a Saturday trial, Mamish said. “The successful passing of three ships through the Canal during Saturday’s trial was equivalent to the passing of the nation from darkness to light.”
President Abdel-Fattah al Sisi unveiled plans to expand the canal during a televised speech on August 5, 2014. Apparently catching the Canal Authority by surprise, Sisi also shortened the project timeline, requesting it be completed in one year rather than the three years initially planned.
The compressed timescale has come at a cost for Egypt. Domestic operators do not have enough equipment to move the required amount of earth in one year, so the government had to turn to foreign firms, paying them over US$2 billion to assist with the dredging.
Despite this setback, officials have remained confident that the canal will more than pay for itself, projecting that the expanded Suez Canal will bring in US$13.5 billion per year by 2023, compared to just shy of $5.5 billion in 2014.
Industry experts are skeptical about this claim, since the level of traffic in the Suez Canal depends at least as much on global trading patterns as it does on canal transit time. “The level of use of the canal is primarily driven by macroeconomic trade factors on a global basis, i.e. well beyond Egypt,” Neil Davidson, an analyst at London-based maritime advisory firm Drewry told Mada Masr last year.
The canal project has captured the imagination of Egyptians. When the government called on private citizens to support the project by buying Suez Canal bonds, LE64 billion of the bonds sold out within two weeks.
The government also says it has successfully appealed to local and international companies to donate the US$30 million price for a lavish opening ceremony planned for August 6.
The ceremony, Mamish promised will “dazzle the world” and live up to the international nature of the event.
Mamish asserts that the waterway is safe, despite its proximity to the ongoing violence in North Sinai. He called on all international shipping companies and authorities to make use of the waterway. The canal, he said, is “Egypt’s gift to the world.”