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Developing the Suez Canal

The dredging of the canal took almost 10 years using Egyptian labor, and it was opened for navigation for the first time in 17 November 1869. The total excavation up to the time of opening the canal to traffic amounted to 80,000,000 cubic yards, mostly sand. At first the canal was merely a ditch, being 25-26 feet [8 meters] deep and 72-75 feet [22 meters] in width at the bottom; at the ground level the width ranged from 200 to 300 feet [60 to 90 meters], and the deepest cut was 80 feet. Its water area was 304 m2 and the largest ship load that can pass through was 5000 tons, which was typical for ships sizes in these days. The Suez Canal was 88 geographical, or about 100 statute miles long. At intervals of five or six miles, the canal was widened, for a short space, to 50 yards, forming thus sidings [gares) where only vessels can pass each other. At these, therefore, a ship had often to wait until a file of perhaps twenty steamers, coming the other way, had passed. Occasionally a ship got across, or "touched," and then the canal was blocked for hours.

When the Canal was first constructed, it was supposed that the tonnage likely to pass through it annually would hardly reach, far less exceed, 6,000,000 tons gross tonnage, and to the accommodation of that amount of tonnage, its capabilities were considered fully equal. From 1870 to 1881, that quantity was not exceeded. But in 1882 it rose to 7,122,000 tons, and then it was found that the Canal was not equal to its mission, and had proved incompetent to deal fittingly with so vast a traffic. From the insufficiency both of its width and of its depth, vessels were constantly getting aground, and the obstruction, like a block of carriages in a crowded thoroughfare, for a time completely impeded the circulation.

So much inconvenience had been found from the restricted dimensions of the work, that the International Commission on the Suez Canal was appointed, in 1884, to determine what new measures, in respect of works and navigation, should be undertaken to enable the ship-canal to meet fully the exigencies of a traffic exceeding 10,000,000 tons per annum. Its Report was presented in February 1885, of which document the Author furnishes a summary. The Commission considered three methods of increasing the carrying capacity of the canal, namely: (1) widening the existing canal; (2) construction of a second canal; (3) doubling the capacity of the canal by a combination of the first two methods.

When the canal was first designed, in 1856, it was supposed that two vessels, being towed, could easily pass where the bottom width was 144 feet, or double the normal width adopted. By 1884, however, when vessels of 50 feet in width propel themselves through the canal, a bottom width of 230 feet has been proposed for the 81 miles from Port Said to the southern end of the Bitter Lakes, where the tidal currents do not exceed 1 knot an hour, and 262 feet for the rest of the distance to Suez, where the currents often exceed 2 knots, in order that the vessels may pass each other freely.

The cost of this widening was estimated at 8,240,000, supposing the depth of the canal remained as at present, 26 feet below low-water of ordinary spring tides, but would be increased by 975,200 if the depth was augmented to 29 feet, unless the proposed width could be reduced 18 feet. The construction of a second canal, within the limits of the company's lands, having, like the existing canal, a bottom width of 72 feet, widened out to 131 feet through the small Bitter Lakes, was estimated at from 8,200,000 to 8,920,000, with an additional cost of 698,800 if made 29.^ feet deop. The third plan took into consideration the different velocities of the tidal currents north and south of the Bitter Lakes. Assuming that the greater velocity might lead to collisions between vessels passing on a single enlarged canal, it would be advisable to restrict the enlargement to the northern portion, and to form a second canal between the Bitter Lakes and Suez.

The Commission decided unanimously in 1885 in favor of the enlargement of the existing canal from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, for the following reasons. An enlarged section would enable vessels to increase their speed from to 8 knots an hour, and thus to traverse the canal in about twelve hours, which could never be accomplished with two separate canals; and, moreover, there would be only two banks to maintain, instead of four. This increase of speed would greatly facilitate the steering, which, together with the greater width of canal, will enable vessels to avoid stranding on the banks, an important gain which would not be obtained with two canals. The danger of collisions between passing vessels on a single canal will be obviated by the great increase in width proposed for the canal, and by reducing the speed of the vessels in the act of passing. Moreover, the plan of enlargement will include the easing of the curves on the canal, and will thus remove the impediments which these sharp and narrow bends present to vessels of 360 feet in length, which is quite an ordinary length now, though rare twenty years ago. Lastly, this system will possess the inestimable advantage of enabling each successive portion of enlargement to be at once utilized as an addition to the passing places for vessels.

The Commission exhibited some difference of opinion on the question whether, in order to keep within the lower estimate, the depth should be increased at the expense of the width; but it was eventually agreed that the depth should be increased to 28 feet, with a corresponding decrease in the proposed width of the northern portion to 213 feet, and of the southern portion to 246 feet, measured at a depth of 26 feet.

And for years work went on to increase both the depth and width. In 1895, the canal was so enlarged as to give a depth of thirty-one feet, a width at the bottom of 108 feet, and at the surface of 420 feet.

In 1915 the channel was 36 feet deep, and the bottom width 134 feet. The deepest vessel to date, to pass through had a draft of 28 feet. The plan gave passage to vessels with a draft of 31 to 32 feet. Vessels have increased in size in keeping with the yearly increase in the size of the canal. In 1870 the average net tonnage was 898 tons per ship; this had increased by 1911 to 3,688 tons per ship.

As the ships developed and increased its sizes, the canal needed to be developed, which happened when it was still a foreign joint venture before being publicized to take ships with depth of 35 feet and its water area to be 1200 m2 by the end of 1956 and when the canal was publicized by the Egyptian government on the 26th of July 1956. The Egyptian administration was keen to develop the Navigation canal even more on different stages.

In May 1962, the water area of the canal was to reach 1800 m 2 and the allowed depth to 38 feet. In June 1966, a development was to be executed on 2 stages as it was announced the depth would reach 48 and 58 feet consecutively. This program was started, but was soon halted due to the war that erupted on the 5th of June, 1967. It was reopened for international; navigation in June 1975 after purifying it from the ships that sank in its bottom during in the 1967 and 1973 wars,The canal still with the same water area and depth as before it was closed.

The development projects then started by the Egyptian administration and received to ships of a 210,000 tons load, specially after increasing the water area to 4800 m 2 and a ship draft of 62 feet , with a length of 191.80 km, in addition to the redesign of the canal's turns so that each one has a radius of at least 5000 m and also dredging a new bypass starting from the 17th km south of port said heading directly to the Mediterranean east of port Fouad to allow the loaded ships going north to go to the sea without passing through port said port.

The ship draft reached 66 feet by 2010, this stage taking all container vessels; about 17,000 container vessels; as well as taking all bulk vessels world wide. The Canal will be able to take in about 99 % of all methods used in world maritime transport after reaching a depth of 72 feet (Target stage,Under Study), as well as taking about 99% of the dead weight tons for the bulk vessels 82% of the petroleum tanks and a 100% of all the remaining types of ships used in maritime transport; specially container vessels with all its future generations; in addition to empty vessels reaching up to 560 thousand tons.

Navigational Channel

Item Unit 1869 1956 1962 1980 1994 1996 2001 2010
Overall Length Km 164 175 175 189.8 189.8 189.8 191.8 193.3
Bypasses Length Km -- 27.7 27.7 77 77 77 79 80.5
Width at 11 m depth m -- 60 89 160/175 170/190 180/200 195/215 205/225
Water depth m 8 14 15.5 19.5 20.5 21 22.5 24
Max. Draft of ship Feet 22 35 38 53 56 58 62 66
Cross Sectional Area m 2 304 1200 1800 3250/3600 3600/4000 3850/4300 4350/4800 4800/5200
Max. Loaded ship DWT 5000 30000 60000 150000 170000 185000 210000 240000

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:38:54 ZULU