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New Suez Canal lane plans unveiled

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Bulldozers and heavy equipment feature during a ceremony to inaugurate the start of work on the new segment of the Suez Canal. Photo: PA

Bulldozers and heavy equipment feature during a ceremony to inaugurate the start of work on the new segment of the Suez Canal. Photo: PA

Egypt plans to spend $4Bn to add an extra 45 mile (72km) lane to the Suez Canal. The announcement was made by president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and confirmed by Suez Canal Authority chairman Mohab Mamish in a televised speech this week. Toni Slinn writes. (source: IHS Fairplay)

Currently, the canal only provides for one-way traffic, with passing places in the Ballah By-Pass and Great Bitter Lake. The new lane would allow ships to travel in both directions for just under half its 101 mile length.

The move is seen as a response to the Panama Canal expansion that’s set to open in 2016 and will double that canal’s capacity, potentially taking traffic from the Suez Canal.

Suez Canal revenues total about $5Bn and are a crucial source of foreign currency for the Egyptian economy, which is in tatters following three years of political instability.

Egypt hopes the new lane’s extra capacity will attract more ships and thus more foreign currency. “This giant project will be the creation of a new Suez Canal parallel to the current channel, ” Mamish stated, adding that he hopes the new channel will be on stream within a year.

Such a quick result is thought by most analysts to be unrealistic, with a more likely three to five years being cited. It’s also not clear to what extent the expansion would speed up the canal’s operations.

In a report published by The Guardian newspaper, Cairo-based analyst and president of economic think-tank the Signet Institute, Angus Blair, is quoted stating: “They are only increasing capacity in a part of the canal, essentially turning a single carriageway into a motorway halfway through.”

President Sisi said the project would receive no overseas financing and hoped the $4Bn cost would largely be met by contributions from individual Egyptians. “We want all Egyptians to hold shares in this project, ” he said.

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