The first three container ships have passed through Egypt’s second Suez Canal in an “experimental operation” ahead of the waterway’s official opening on 6 August.
Additionally, dredging plans have been approved for an access channel, which will allow two-way traffic to and from Suez Canal Container Terminal (SCCT).
The first vessel was an American ship, heading to Port Said from Saudi Arabia; another was a Maersk ship sailing to the US from Singapore, and a Bahraini ship headed for Italy from Saudi Arabia.
The canal has been widened and deepened, along with the addition of a second waterway, creating a two-way traffic system which enables the canal to double its daily capacity from 49 to an estimated 97 ships.
With an Islamist insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders the canal, helicopters and naval vessels escorted the ships as part of the security operation.
As of Sunday (26 July), 99.4% of the dredging works had been accomplished.
Mohab Mamish, head of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), later revealed plans to build a sub-canal near East Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea, in the hope of cutting waiting times for vessels leaving SCCT and entering the canal.
Dredging works on the 9.5 km long channel, which will cost around US$60m, will begin as soon as the New Suez Canal is inaugurated. The navigational channel will enter the Suez Canal 20 km south of its northern entrance. Dredgers already in the region will be used to dig this planned canal, said Mamish.
Klaus Holm Laursen, managing director of SCCT, which is operated by APM Terminals, told CM: “The navigational access to East Port Said is a prerequisite for developing the port further; the port is a central part of Egypt’s economic policy. The increased navigational access will also benefit SCCT and its customers, hence we will be delighted to see this important construction project go ahead.”
Laursen stated that the proposals made business sense, adding: “It would make sense since the SCA has employed many dredgers in the past year that are about to leave Egypt; i.e. mobilisation costs could be saved by doing it now.”
A Reuters source said that the new development would be 18.5 m deep, 250 m wide and would take around seven months to build.
Currently, vessels leaving SCCT have to wait for several hours before being allowed to enter the canal.
The Egyptian government had committed to constructing the navigational access in 2007, following which, SCCT committed to a contribution of US$15m. However, the project was stuck in limbo for years until being revived at the instigation of president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, according to Mamish.
The access channel will be dredged by the consortium of seven companies that is currently completing the expansion of the main canal. This comprises the SCA’s dredge fleet, the Emirati National Marine Dredging Company, Boskalis, Van Oord, Jan De Nul, DEME and the US Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company.