Correspondent in Jerusalem
The Suez Canal works 24 hours a day to try to return to normality after the nearly week-long traffic jam caused by the Ever Given grounding. Since this strategic passage between the Mediterranean and Red Seas was liberated on Tuesday, the number of ships that cross it has doubled to reach a hundred on average every day and the authorities are investigating the reasons for the accident. Sayed Sheishe, advisor to the Suez Canal Authority (SCA, for its acronym in English), told ONE TV channel that the agency claimed the ship’s ‘black box’ from the crew and they hope to clarify what happened in the coming days .
Six years after Abdel Fatah Al Sisi embarked aboard the legendary El-Mahrousa to inaugurate a new stretch of the canal, this key step for world trade and the Egyptian economy he was blocked for almost a week by Ever Given. The name of the royal yacht El-Mahrousa went down in history for being the first vessel to cross this pass between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean in 1869 and the Ever Given will do so for causing its first major traffic jam.
In these 152 years of difference, the canal remains for the most part the same one that the French diplomat Fernando de Lesseps devised, but the ships that cross it have acquired such dimensions that their passage is increasingly a more technical and complex operation. The grounding of the Ever Given, 400 meters long and 60 meters wide, also revealed the fragility of a global trade, pending accidents like this that caused a collapse that will take months to normalize. More than 400 ships were forced to queue in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea to be able to cross this route, which transits 15 percent of global maritime shipments. The plan put in place by the SCA to solve the crisis consisted of keeping the route open for 24 hours and doubling the daily traffic of ships until reaching one hundred. Maersk, a company specializing in maritime trade, indicated that the consequences of the week’s blockade in Suez on global trade “will take weeks or months to resolve.”
Al Sisi tried to revive the opening ceremony of the 19th century in 2015 with a pharaonic ceremony. The president took off his suit and tie and dressed again as a military man to star in the role of Pasha Ismail, instead of the French empress Eugenia de Montijo, wife of Napoléon III. The former president Françoise Hollande was also present and a fragment of the opera ‘Aida’ by Giuseppe Verdi was performed … a old egyptian dream that in their day they commissioned the Italian composer to write a hymn for the inauguration, but before his refusal they replaced it with the Egyptian March Op. 335 by Johann Strauss.
To the rhythm of Strauss began the history of this passage of union between seas and continents that had already been a longing since the time of the Egypt of the pharaohs. The current 193.3-kilometer canal was born as a Franco-Egyptian project and, over the years, its strategic and commercial value made it an object of desire of the great powers and its control was the spark that set off the Sinai War in 1956. Egypt then sank several ships to take revenge on the United Kingdom, France and Israel and the passage was closed for months. Upon its reopening, the nationalization led by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, for whom the channel was synonymous with national pride, had been completed. Eleven years later it closed again due to War of the six days, which pitted Israel against Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq, and was not reopened to international traffic until 1975. For eight years the ships could not use this shortcut between Asia and Europe which allows them to save more than a week of travel, which is which means bordering the African continent through the Cape of Good Hope.
Source of income
What Al Sisi inaugurated in 2015 was not a new channel, but a series of improvements to make the old one better adapt to the new times and to the new ships. This improvement consists of a 35-kilometer navigable section in the area near the Mediterranean, dug in parallel to the old canal, and the extension of the existing pipeline in a 37-kilometer section. Egypt invested 7.9 billion euros and completed the work in one year and not three as planned, which was also a source of national pride for Al Sisi.
The goal they set then was to double the number of boats in less than ten years who travel this route -from 49 daily to 97- and triple the income received by the State, which would go from 4,800 million euros in 2014, to more than 12,000 million in 2023. These improvements, however, were not enough to prevent the Ever Given, which occurred in the southern part.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism