5 Truths about the Suez Canal

With the events happening this past week, I realized I was a bit of canal snob and really did not know a lot about the Suez canal. What I knew was that it was a big ditch through the desert dug by an enthusiastic and suave frenchman in the 1850s who met his match later in the jungles of Panama.

The Suez was about dredging mud and sand. The Panama canal was about moving mountains. Building the Suez was more about diplomacy. Building the Panama canal was about converting raw American power into a revolutionary mechanical waterway.

The Suez Canal’s 100-mile waterway is still impressive. It has no locks, takes about 15 hours to go through, carries 10% of world trade and 4.5% of world oil production. Here are five truths I discovered about building and maintaining the Suez Canal.

1. Bigger is always better

The canal has grown since first construction as new ships have grown in size and there is no end in sight.

In January of 2010, the Suez Canal Authority has completed its planned phase to increase the Canal permissible draft to 66 ft.

2. The Canal is Unsustainable.

I guess it goes without saying that if dredging stopped, the canal would over time fill up with sediment. Amazingly the Suez Canal authority has a fleet of over twelve dredges working year round.  If you look at the Canal on Google Maps you can see them working.  Here is one working in the Bitter Sea (a low depression that formed a lake in the middle of the canal). 

3. Surveys need to be correct

In 1798 Napoleon lead an effort to construct the canal. However it was abandoned after a survey concluded that the Red Sea was 10 metres or 33 ft higher than the Mediterranean.

4. First you Build it then You Build Around it.

With non-stop traffic and dredgers working to keep the artery deep, the canal is alive. You can’t shut it down, except maybe in a war like the Six day war. This means you have to get creative when working around the canal like pumping a freshwater canal under the Suez Canal.

It also means developing the worlds largest swinging railroad bridge in the world. 

5. You can never control your legacy.

In 1854 the french engineer, Ferdinand de Lesseps, created the company to construct the canal open to ships of all nations. After ten years of work with 30,000 people working directly on the canal it was opened in November 17, 1869. Beyond the fact that this poor man later went crazy from his failure to build the Panama Canal. His name is now an adjective when discussing the ongoing migration of species across the Suez Canal usually from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.

Apparently Lessepsian migration can also be used to describe any animal migration over any man-made structures that would not have occurred had it not been for the presence of an artificial structure.

I suppose you never want your name to be used as an adjective unless you are someone like Newton. Always great advice.  Hopefully Osbornian will mean something epic for future generations.