Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Transiting the Suez Canal

Monday, April 06, 2009 – SUEZ CANAL, Egypt
Arguably the single most vital traffic artery in the world; an average of 90 ships a day pass through transporting 14% of the world’s trade

We, and the entire ship it seemed, were up extra early as we began our crawl through the Suez Canal. There are no locks and you would think it would be monotonous viewing with sand all around you but it was a great day!! It was so interesting. You are so close to land that the people are whistling and shouting and waving to you. There are flies and birds flying around; these have not been seen in weeks!!! As we were traveling northbound, the starboard side, right, is mostly sand dunes. There are few buildings and even fewer homes. There is a ferry service to serve both sides of the canal. There are many military installations along the left bank, and soldiers were even out there waving to us.

There are only three main cities along the route. We started at Suez, at the south end, which was heavily damaged during the 1967 and 1973 wars. It is now an industrial center producing petrochemicals, fertilizers and cement. We saw many oil wells and pumping stations. Then Ishmailia is along the way, a pleasant town with tree-lined boulevards and parks along the waterfront. Port Said is at the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea, established in 1859 as a base for the construction and operation of the canal and today is the home of duty-free goods.

The idea of opening a canal dates back to 2100BC!!!!! Who would have thought that???!!
The earliest attempt took place during the 26th Dynasty in Egypt and over 120,000 men lost their lives. It was only abandoned when an oracle warned the king that invading foreigners would be the only ones to profit by it!!! Around 500BC, Darius I completed the project through to Great Bitter Lake. It was extended and then abandoned about 200AD.

Work commenced again in 1859 and finished in 1869. Guiseppe Verdi composed the opera AIDA for the completion of the canal. Egypt’s ruler had financed a third of the canal’s construction, which contributed largely to his bankruptcy. In 1875, shares were purchased by the British government and the canal became a focal part of the wars in the area.

The Suez Canal is an artificial canal 101 miles long and 984 feet wide at its narrowest point. It was built to allow two-way water transportation between Europe and Asia without circumnavigation of Africa. Before it opened in 1869, goods were sometimes off- loaded from ships and carried over land between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

There are no locks and sometimes the ships look as if they are floating through sand when you see them at a distance as you can’t see the water at all! Remember the saying, “Ships of the desert”? There is one shipping lane with several passing areas. On a typical day, three convoys transit the canal: two southbound and one northbound.

We were in a convoy of nine ships going northbound, each spaced 1.5 miles apart. We transited from 7:00AM-5:00PM at an approx. speed of 9miles/hr. The low speed helps prevent erosion of the canal banks by ship’s wakes. In 2003, it was reported that 17,224 ships passed through the canal averaging about 8% of the world’s shipping traffic. Receipts from July 2005 – May 2006 totaled $3.246 billion dollars and 18,193 ships passed through the canal.

We began in the Gulf of Suez Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) and then proceeded to a waiting area. We dropped anchor until we were notified of our position in the convoy. We proceeded to the Newport Rock Channel to make sure we were at the entrance of the canal in order to start the convoy at 6AM. We entered via Little Bitter Lake at 8AM, which takes 30 minutes to cross. Then we entered the east branch of the channel to get to the Great Bitter Lake, which is a salt water lake between the north and south part of the Suez Canal. Just before noon we passed the Gebel Maryam war memorial on the port side. We passed a much larger war memorial on the starboard side in mid-afternoon with huge stadium next to it and green grass park, which is highly unusual in the desert. Then we passed under the Suez Canal Bridge and reached Port Said about 5PM. I counted 24 ships waiting to begin their convoy on the southbound journey.

This piece of trivia really took me by surprise…
Our Statue of Liberty was originally designed to stand in Port Said at the entrance to the Suez Canal!! Inspired by the colossal statues at Abu Simbel (Egypt), French sculptor Bartholdi formulated the idea of a huge statue of a woman bearing a torch to represent progress. The idea was ultimately abandoned due to the cost and the “Light of Asia”, was sent to New York, where she became Lady Liberty.
!!!!! What do you think about that?? I never learned that story in history class!!!

Spent a lot of time on passenger work today! Email and telephone bills will be a shock, I’m sure.

Gorgeous weather with a warm sun yet the day started out hazy and cold!! I actually had my wool slacks and long sleeve shirt on while others were running around in their shorts!

We were the only ones at our dinner table, which was fine. Entertainment was Katzenjammer, the four-handed pianists and Emma Sinclair and Christopher Riggins, singers. I worked on the computer for about 2 hours and prepared for Cairo/Alexandria!
The ship and public areas are still under restrictions due to the noro-virus.

Lectures: “Galileo and Darwin”; Carol Thatcher “Travels: On and off the Red Carpet”; Meet the Environmental Officer; “Port Architecture” and documentary on the Suez Canal.