Suez Canal, an artificial waterway running north to south across the Isthmus of Suez in northeastern Egypt; it connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Gulf of Suez, an arm of the Red Sea. The canal, about 163 km (about 101 miles) long, has no locks because the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Suez have roughly the same water level. Most of the canal has only a single traffic lane, with several passing bays.
The idea of linking the Mediterranean and Red Seas first occurred during the Pharaonic age. Pharaohs were pioneers in this sphere, they dug a canal linking both Seas through the eastern branch of the Nile Delta. Later the canal was neglected until the Greeks, followed by the Romans dug it several times but it was again neglected.
The canal was dug once again at the time of the Arab conquest of Egypt. It continued to exist for scores of years but was later filled up.
During the French campaign of 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte thought of linking the two Seas directly by means of a navigation canal, but engineers did not support the idea that the Red Sea level is nine meters higher than that of the Mediterranean.
On November 30, 1854 the French engineer Ferdinand De-lesseps managed to sign a concession with the Egyptian government to dig the Suez Canal.
On April 25, 1859 the digging of the Canal began and continued for ten years. More than 1.5 million Egyptian workers took part, of which more than 125.000 lost their lives.
On November 17,1869 the Suez Canal was opened for navigation.
The Suez Canal has a strategic location. It links two oceans and two seas the Atlantic and Mediterranean via Gibraltar to Port Said, and the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea via Bab Al Mandab and the Gulf of Suez to the port of Suez. It is the longest Canal that has no locks, it can be widened and deepened at any time when necessary.
In July 1956, Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal after it had been an international company for about 87 years.
The canal was closed to Israeli shipping and cargoes from 1948 to 1975 and to all shipping from 1967 to 1975, following the ARAB-ISRAELI WAR of 1967. Cleared of mines and wreckage, it was reopened in 1975 and enlarged (1976-80).
The Suez Canal's strategic importance lies in the fact that it is essential for world trade. It transports 14% of the total world trade, 26% of oil exports, 41% of the total volume of goods and cargo that reach Arab Gulf ports.
The Suez Canal shortens considerably the distance between East and West, for instance, 86% of the distance between the Saudi Port of Jeddah to the Black Sea port of Canstanza is saved if compared to the route round the Cape of Good Hope. The distance between Tokyo (Japan) and Rotterdam ( Holland) is shortened by 23 % if it goes round Africa.
The Egyptian government has always been keen on improving and developing the performance of the Suez Canal in order to cope with the steady increase in maritime transport due to the huge capacity of tankers, giant cargo vessels and the ever increasing number of ships crossing the canal.
The Suez Canal can accommodate huge vessels of 500 meters long, 70 meters wide and a draught of 70 feet. The present capacity of the Suez Canal has reached more than 25.000 vessels annually.
The number of ships passing through the Canal form 1/7/1995 till 30/9/96 has reached 18.443 with net cargo of 444 million tons. During the same period, 4959 containers of a net cargo of 156 million tons and 303 giant tankers of a net cargo of 47 million tons have also used this vital thoroughfare.