The Suez Canal runs north to south across the Isthmus of Suez in
The Suez Canal (Qanâ el Suweis) forms a 163 km (101 mile) Ship Canal
in Egypt between Port Said (Bûr Sa'îd) on the Mediterranean and Suez
(El Suweis) on the Red Sea.
Before the construction of the canal, some transport was conducted
by offloading ships and carrying the goods overland between the
Mediterranean and the Red Sea.
The canal provides an important shortcut for ships operating between
both European and East Coast American ports and ports located in
southern Asia, eastern Africa, and Oceania.
With a length of about 195 kilometers (121 miles) and a minimum
channel width of 60 meters (197 feet), the canal is able to
accommodate ships as large as 150,000 tons fully loaded. Because no
locks interrupt traffic on this sea level waterway, the transit time
only averages 15 hours.
A French company led by Ferdinand deLesseps contracted with Egypt to
build the Suez Canal. After ten years of work, the canal opened in
1869. The canal was jointly owned by the Egyptian government and
France. The first ship to pass through the canal did so on
February 17, 1867. It is estimated that 1.5 million
Egyptians worked on the canal and 125,000 died, many due to cholera.
The Egyptian ruler, Ismail, celebrated by building a huge palace in
Cairo. Ismail treated royalty from around the world to a celebration
in honour of the new canal. The heavy spending for the celebration
came at a time when the price of Egyptian cotton plunged. Egypt had
gone into debt to pay for the Suez Canal and Ismail was forced to
take out loans from European banks which he was unable to repay.
Consequently he was forced to sell the canal to Great Britain.
Soon after, the British sent soldiers into Egypt, saying they were
concerned for their property and for many years, the British
controlled the Suez Canal.
July 26, 1956, Egypt seized the canal, which
caused Britain, France and Israel to invade in the week-long Suez
War. Led by the United States who did not want such an important
route held by countries they could not control, the United Nations
declared the canal Egyptian property.
The canal closed for eight years in
1967 after Egypt lost a disastrous six-day war with Israel.
After the war, Israel controlled the Sinai penisula, which includes
the east bank of the canal. The canal reopened in 1975
after tensions cooled. Egypt and Israel agreed to a peace treaty
four years later.
A UN peacekeeping force has been
stationed in the Sinai Peninsula since 1974.
the Suez Canal is open to every nation.
The canal has no locks because there is no sea level difference.
Passage through the canal is monitored by "Stations" which note the
passing of vessels and control movement. There are three
sections of the canal which allow vessels to pass each other.
These are between Stations 1 & 2. Bahrah el Tumsah and the Great
Bitter Lake. The canal allows ships with up to 15 meters (50 feet)
of draft to pass, and improvements are planned to increase this to
22 m (72 feet) by 2010 to allow supertanker passage. Presently
supertankers can offload part of their load onto a canal-owned boat
and reload at the other end of the canal.
Some 15,000 ships pass through the canal each year, bearing about
14% of world shipping.
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