Suez Canal

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Map: Egypt
Suez Canal
Suez Canal (satellite photo), 2001
Entry into the Suez Canal near Port Said in May 2008, in the background Port Fouad with its "Great Mosque"
Sketch of a map, at least fairly precisely aligned

The Suez Canal (in German mostly Suez Canal , after the English and French spelling for the port city of Suez ; Arabic قناة السويس Qanat as-Suways ) is anavigation canalinEgyptbetween the ports ofPort Saidand Port Tawfiq in Suez, where theMediterraneanacross the isthmus of Suez (Isthmusof Suez) to theRed Sealinks and maritime transport betweenthe North Atlanticandthe Indian Oceanthe way to Save Africa. The canal, which is part of the maritimeSilk Road, forms the border betweenAfricaandAsia. It opened on November 17, 1869. At that time its length was 164 km. Since the depression, which was completed in 2009, it has been 193.3 km long, including the northern and southern access canals. In 2015, a new, approximately 37 km long canal section, running parallel to the existing canal, was opened, straightening the previous route and thereby shortening it somewhat (for one direction of travel). Around 12% of the world's sea ​​trade pass through the Suez Canal. In 2015, 17,483 ships passed through the canal for this purpose. In 2019, the last year before the COVID-19 pandemic , there were 18,800 ships. The operator, the Egyptian state-owned Suez Canal Authority (SCA), raised over US $ 5 billion, averaging more than US $ 300,000 per passage.

The Suez Canal is a sea water canal. It has no locks and therefore (unlike canals such as the Panama Canal , which overcome a height difference), does not need a constant supply of water.

The canal can be used by all ships (merchant and war ships) of all states in peacetime and in wartime under the same conditions. For warships of belligerent states certain restrictions, such as drive-through without stopping and not apply supply . This was agreed in the still valid Convention of Constantinople of October 29, 1888. Warships are to register their passage with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense and the Authority for Maritime Security.

From June 1967 to June 1975 the canal was closed as a result of the Six Day War . In 2003 the American Society of Civil Engineers added it to the list of historical milestones in engineering .

Largest passage profile for ships

Ships to Suezmax can navigate the canal. Larger ships fall into the Capesize category (as of 2008) and have to choose a route from southern Asia to Europe via Cape Town, around the southern tip of Africa. (As of 2008)

The Panama Canal is in relation to the ship profile in restrictive than the Suez Canal. (As of 2008)

The Suez Canal was deepened in 2009/2010, and this expansion has enabled ships with a draft of up to 20.1 m to pass through. There is no evidence that changes in water level due to tides near the transitions to the seas play a role.

Global melting of ice in the course of global warming suggests that the sea level and thus the water level in the Suez Canal will rise. Waves and currents generated by ship traffic tend to cause downward migration, collisions with a ship's hull at certain points cause material to slide down and move the embankment. Sonar measurements can examine changes in the channel depth, suction dredging can remove material from the bottom.


There are several ferries, a road bridge, a railway bridge (over both arms, see below) and a road tunnel for land transport crossing the canal. There are or were concepts for building more tunnels.

Listed from north to south:

  • via the "Westarm" (not a functional part of the canal, but part of the Suez Canal Area) in / near Port Said on the Mediterranean
    • Port Said Ferry from Port Said to Port F (o) uad City in the southeast of the water
    • Al Raswa ferry
    • Pontoon bridge El Nasr Floating Bridge (December 2016. 6 pontoons together make a length of 420 m. Can be used for cars.)
  • over the "Ostarm" (functionally the Suez Canal)
    • ferry


  • Qantara Ferryboat ferry
  • Qantara Cars Ferryboat Ferry
  • Suez Canal Bridge (Peace, Al Salam, Mubaraj ...) Road bridge with a clearance of 70 m allowed for ships up to 68 m high (opened in 2001)


Two-armed bypass






Water cross-connection, still two-armed


  • unnamed ferry just north of the railway bridge
  • Railway bridges El Ferdan over the west arm (2001, single-track swing bridge, out of service since 2014 with the construction of the New Suez Canal (= east arm)) and New El Ferdan over the east arm (as of 2017: not yet built, decision to build a new double-track bridge and against a tunnel)


Water cross-connection, still two-armed, at the water-T east of the east arm: New Suez Canal Headquarter


  • in Ismailia
    • Via West Arm: Nemra 6 Ferry, 6 Ismailia Ferry
    • over east arm road bridge


Timsahsee communicates west of the western arm

2 water cross connections between 2 arms

Bitter lakes


In / near the city of Suez:

  • 50 Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel (opened 1981, leak repair 1991, reopened 1992)
  • The Ferry at The Ferry Road


Based on the Arabic name of the Egyptian city, the German transcription of Sue is correct; so it is also in the Duden. The Arabic name السويس is pronounced as-Suwais in high Arabic , es-Swēs in Egyptian (whereby the w is pronounced “English” - i.e. as a consonant u).

The often used spelling Suez corresponds to the English and French transcriptions .

Canal structures in ancient Egypt

The Bay of Suez in 1856

The Bubastis Canal (also known as the Ismailia Canal ) was built in ancient Egypt . It indirectly linked the Mediterranean and the Red Sea and led from the Nile Delta via Wadi Tumilat and Lake Timsah to the Red Sea.

It is considered unlikely that this canal was already built in the Middle Kingdom by Pharaoh Sesostris I or Sesostris III. or in the New Kingdom by Seti I or Ramses II .

Probably Necho II. (610 to 595 BC) built a canal from Bubastis in the eastern Nile Delta (today's Zagazig ) through the Wadi Tumilat, but did not complete it. The Persian king Dareios I (521 to 486 BC) established the connection to the Red Sea and documented this with four steles erected on the banks of his canal construction . Under the Ptolemies , the canal was renewed with a partially different route; in Cleopatra's time it was silted up or silted up again .

Emperor Trajan (98 to 117 AD) built a connecting canal from Cairo to the Bubastis Canal around 100 AD and renewed it. This canal, also maintained by his successors, seems to have been used for a long time in trade with the south and east.

After the Arabs conquered Egypt, Amr ibn al-As , a commander of Mohammed who ruled Egypt from 641 to 644 AD, had the canal restored to supply the Arab sites with grain and as a route for pilgrims. Al-Mansur , the second Abbasid caliph , is said to have ordered the closure of the canal in 770 as a measure against his enemies in Medina.

After that, the 200 km long canal from Cairo to Suez was not restored. A section of the route was used in the 19th century for the construction of the freshwater canal (see above).

History of modern canal construction


Muhammad Said Pasha 1855, namesake for Port Said
(recording by Nadar )

A canal through the Isthmus of Suez with its flat elevations, marsh lakes and salt depressions was, so to speak, mapped out by nature. That is why the idea of ​​building canals stayed alive through the centuries. The Ottomans kept thinking about it. In 1504, the Republic of Venice proposed that the Ottomans build a canal. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz wrote to the French King Louis XIV in 1671 with this in mind . Fears that the Red Sea was higher than the Mediterranean and that the ocean current off the Nile Delta would soon clog a channel with Nile mud again caused people to shy away from carrying out the idea, likewise the consideration that a puncture could also bring undesirable relief for other powers.

Napoleon Bonaparte picked up the idea to disrupt British trade with India. The measurements of the isthmus, carried out under difficult circumstances by Jacques-Marie Le Père during his Egyptian expedition in 1799 , came to the wrong conclusion that the Red Sea is around ten meters higher than the Mediterranean.

In 1997, a collection of letters, drawings and photographs related to the construction of the canal was declared a World Document Heritage Site by UNESCO . The collection is kept in the Egyptian Embassy in Paris.

Surveying and awarding of concessions

The planning work initiated by the Société d'Études du Canal de Suez , founded in 1846 , in particular the survey carried out by Paul-Adrien Bourdaloue and the studies carried out by Alois Negrelli , finally corrected the mistake about the different sea levels. Independently of this, at around the same time the Frenchman Linant de Bellefonds, who was active in the Egyptian state building administration, was researching the isthmus and drawing up plans for the construction of a canal.

The French lawyer and diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps had dealt with the ideas of a canal during his years of service in Alexandria and Cairo, but did not pursue them any further. When he was already in (involuntary) retirement at the age of 55, Muhammad Said , with whom he was friends from a young age, was made Egyptian viceroy . Lesseps congratulated, was immediately invited to Egypt and after a short time he was so enthusiastic about the idea that Lesseps received a first concession for the construction of the Suez Canal on November 30, 1854 by the Compagnie universelle du canal maritime de Suez , which he founded, which would subsequently operate the canal for the next 99 years. However, the concession still had to be approved by the Sublime Porte in Constantinople .

Great Britain exerted diplomatic pressure to prevent the construction of the canals, but could not prevent Lesseps from having further elaborations by Linant-Bey and the convening of the International Commission on the Piercing of the Isthmus of Suez with experts from England, including Negrelli was involved.

After a positive interim report by this commission, Lesseps received the second, more detailed concession from Said Pascha on January 5, 1856, with which the canal construction work was also described and the statutes of the Suez Canal Society were fixed.

Since Great Britain succeeded in preventing the approval of the concession, Lesseps was forced to flee forwards for financial reasons and on December 15, 1858 to found the Compagnie universelle du canal maritime de Suez , an Egyptian company based in Alexandria and a head office in Paris, which was designed for the greatest possible international participation. The share issue was not very successful: just under 56% of the share capital of 200 million francs was subscribed, mostly by French investors, so that the viceroy had to step in and take over the remaining 44%. The president of the company was Lesseps, the vice-president was the banker Pasquale Revoltella from Trieste, who also owned a larger share of the shares.

Construction phase

Drawing of the Suez Canal from 1881
Diagram of the Suez Canal from 1882

On April 25, 1859, the construction work was ceremoniously opened on the beach section, where later the place named "Port Said" in honor of Said Pasha was built.

In accordance with the suggestions of Negrelli, who died on October 1, 1858, the planning envisaged building the canal without locks and laying the northern mouth of the canal not at the southernmost point of Pelusium Bay , but further west at Lake Menzaleh.

Construction work

The canal construction project was probably the largest construction project of its time. It had to be carried out in the desert and far away from any infrastructure. First of all, a landing stage, a small lighthouse, storage areas and building barracks had to be created on the beach in order to be able to bring material and equipment to the construction site. All drinking water and food had to be transported, initially with up to 1,800 cargo camels . All material, all tools, machines, coal, iron and every piece of wood had to be brought from Europe. Light railways with steam locomotives were built for transport along the canal route , for which coal and water had to be kept ready. The machines for excavating the huge amounts of sand were still at the beginning of their development and first had to be designed and built. The excavation in the dry was done by hand, with up to 34,000 workers filling rinsing baskets and using human chains to bring them to the top of the embankment. As soon as the canal was deep enough, water was let in and further excavation was carried out with dredgers and newly developed floating conveyor belts . On November 18, 1862 the water entry into the Timsah Sea was celebrated.

Freshwater canal

As already provided for in the concessions, great efforts were made from the beginning to build the freshwater canal that led from the Nile through Wadi Tumilat to Lake Timsah and was completed on February 2, 1862. The branch to the south and the construction of a steam pump-operated pipeline to Port Said then followed.

Diplomatic problems

Great Britain tried again and again by diplomatic pressure on the Sublime Porte, especially after the death of Said Pasha, to have the work stopped because it had still not been approved by the Sultan . This went so far that de Lesseps turned to Emperor Napoleon III. and achieved that this settled the situation in an arbitration award and that finally on March 19, 1866 the Sultan's Firman with the final approval of the canal construction was published - around seven years after the start of construction.

Completion of the Suez Canal

After Napoleon's arbitration, Egypt no longer had to assign workers to the canal construction, so the Suez Canal Society recruited people from all over the Mediterranean and significantly increased the use of steam-powered equipment.

During the canal works, Port Said was built at the northern end , and Ismailia , named after Ismail Pascha , the successor of Said Pascha , on Lake Timsah , was built with the general management of construction works, and Suez was considerably expanded at the southern end.

A railway was run from Cairo and Alexandria to Ismailia, and the old Cairo-Suez desert railway was abandoned.

From March 18 to October 24, 1869, the bitter lakes were filled with sea water.

A total of 1.5 million people, mainly Egyptians, are said to have worked on the canal construction during the ten-year construction period. The frequently mentioned high numbers of deaths (up to 125,000) have not been proven and are likely to be greatly exaggerated. The cholera epidemic in June / July 1865 also caused the workers to flee the construction sites, but probably not to a large number of victims.


Ships waiting for the canal passage in Port Said around 1880

On November 17, 1869 , in the presence of many princes and many invited Europeans, the opening of the canal took place with three-day festivities that are said to have cost the Khedives 20 million francs. One of the first German ships to cross the canal was the SMS Hertha , which also took part in the opening celebrations.

Allegedly Giuseppe Verdi composed his opera Aida for this festival. This is contradicted, however, since Aida was first performed in Cairo in 1871. Verdi was asked to write a hymn for the inauguration of the canal, which he allegedly refused indignantly - he did not want to write “occasional pieces”. Since Aida was not finished by the opening date, his work Rigoletto was performed instead . On this occasion, Johann Strauss Sohn composed the Egyptian March , which was performed for the first time on July 6, 1869.

On the occasion of the inauguration of the canal, the Parisian family business Léon & Lévy, which specializes in stereoscopy , financed the “Journey on the Nile ” for the photographer Auguste-Rosalie Bisson , of which around 300 images were reproduced.


Gourmet certificate of the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez dated January 1, 1889

By the time the Suez Canal opened on November 17, 1869, costs totaled 416 million francs, which by the time the Suez Canal was actually completed on April 15, 1871, had increased to 426 million francs. The construction costs, including the administrative costs included in the amounts and the interest to the shareholders, appear to have been covered by the subscribed share capital, amounts paid by Egypt under various agreements, borrowing and other income of the company.

By the end of 1884, including the improvements, 488 million francs had been spent on the canal, while the assets amounted to 76.7 million francs.

The first years of operation

The operation of the canal was initially unprofitable. The fee income up to 1870 was just 4 million francs; Egypt was facing bankruptcy. The company's income for the first time in 1872 showed a surplus of 2 million francs, which rose to 29.7 million francs in 1887. Income came to 60.5 million francs and expenses to 30.8 million francs. In 1875 the government of Great Britain took over the Egyptian equity stake, thereby gaining decisive influence over the canal. Resistance among the population to the influence of the British led to the Urabi movement , the suppression of which (1882) resulted in the occupation of Egypt by Great Britain.

Economical meaning

In 1887, 3,137 ships with a total of 5,903,024 net register tons used the canal. The number of travelers was 182,998 (including soldiers).

Economically, the sea trading powers of the Mediterranean countries benefited from the Suez Canal in particular, as they now had much faster connections to the Near and Far East than the North and West European sea trading nations such as Great Britain or Germany. The biggest beneficiary in the Mediterranean region was Austria-Hungary , which it was not by chance that it took part in the planning and construction of the canal. The largest Austrian maritime trading company, Österreichischer Lloyd , experienced rapid expansion after the canal was completed. The company was a partner in the Compagnie Universelle du Canal de Suez , whose vice-president was the Lloyd co-founder Pasquale Revoltella .

Distance savings

The time saved in the 19th century for an assumed steamship trip to Bombay from Brindisi and Trieste was 37 days, from Genoa  32, from Marseille  31, from Bordeaux , Liverpool , London , Amsterdam and Hamburg 24 days. The time saved on the journey to other ports can then be calculated. At that time, it was also necessary to consider whether the goods to be transported would be able to bear the costly canal tariff. Manufactories, steel, fine metal goods, silk, tea, coffee, cotton, etc. were considered canalable goods, while goods that could take a long journey were more advantageous to take the route around the Cape of Good Hope .

According to today's information from the shipping companies, the route from Singapore to Rotterdam through the Suez Canal will be shortened by 6000 kilometers and thus by nine days compared to the route around Africa. As a result, liner services between Asia and Europe save 44 percent CO 2 thanks to this shorter route .

Lesseps migration

Through the construction of the canal and the resulting connection between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea , the exchange of living beings between these fauna areas has become possible. The Lesseps migration , named after Ferdinand de Lesseps, led to an invasive biological process of a large number of species from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. The migration is best observed in fish , but other, less conspicuous organisms also spread through the channel.

The Suez Canal in the political dispute

The Suez Canal section from the Bitter Lakes (left) to Ismailia (right) in February 1934, aerial photography by Walter Mittelholzer
A convoy in November 1957 at a canal passing point: in front of the passenger ship Orcades , behind it several tankers followed by the cargo ships
US helicopters clear the mines in the Suez Canal in 1974

On October 29, 1888, the Convention of Constantinople declared the Suez Canal to be a neutral zone and free passage for merchant ships and warships was proclaimed. It should apply in times of peace and war. The patronage was given to Great Britain.

Nevertheless, the canal area became a theater of war in the First World War. Great Britain declared martial law in Egypt on October 29, 1914; the Central Powers tried until mid-1916 to dispute control of the canal from the British.

Even after the protectorate was lifted and the Kingdom of Egypt was established in 1922 , Great Britain retained control of the Canal Zone. In 1936 this was contractually secured. The Compagnie universelle du canal maritime de Suez remained the owner and economic beneficiary of the canal, which in the meantime generated high profits .

British control of the canal remained in place during World War II . Offensive campaigns by Italian and German- Italian troops in the direction of the Suez Canal in September 1940 and from February 1941 were repulsed.

Under the Egyptian President Nasser , the canal was nationalized on July 26, 1956, twelve years before the concession of the canal company expired. This triggered the Suez crisis . On October 29, 1956, Israeli, British and French troops attacked Egypt. However, due to the diplomatic intervention of the UN , the USA and the Soviet Union (see also: Suez Conferences ), the conflict was ended relatively quickly and the theater of war was cleared again on December 22, 1956. Sunk ships blocked the passage until 1957. On April 10, 1957, the Italian ship Oceania was the first to pass the Suez Canal, which was once again accessible to shipping, on its voyage to Australia.

In the Six Day War drew Israel on June 9, 1967 back to the canal and occupied its eastern shore complete. The canal remained closed to shipping and from then on represented the border between Egypt and Israel. Israel set up a line of defense on the east bank, the Bar-Lew Line . During the Yom Kippur War , the canal was stormed by Egyptian troops on October 6, 1973 and overcome using innovative Soviet pioneering technology, including, above all, PMP pontoon bridges that could be built quickly. The Israelis also succeeded in building a bridge across the canal in a counterattack on October 16. At the end of the war, Israel had established itself on the south-west bank, while the Egyptian armies on the east bank were largely enclosed and threatened to be worn out. According to the ceasefire agreement, the Israeli troops withdrew to the east side and from there a few kilometers further into the Sinai. The entire canal came back completely under Egyptian control. This enabled the canal to reopen through Egypt on June 4, 1975.

When it was blocked in 1967, a group of 14 ships - the Yellow Fleet - were arrested in the bitter lakes in the canal and could only leave it again after eight years in 1975. Among them were the German ships Nordwind and Münsterland , which were the only ones able to leave the Suez Canal on their own. They returned to the Port of Hamburg , their home port , in May 1975 . During the lockdown, the crews of the ships issued their own hand-painted “postage stamps”, which were recognized by the Egyptian Post.

On Tuesday, February 22, 2011, warships from Iran entered the Suez Canal. According to the Israeli newspaper Jedi'ot Acharonot , this was the first time since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 that Iranian warships were in the Channel. Netanyahu saw the passage of the Iranian warships as an "attempt by Iran to expand its influence in the region" and wanted to adjust the Israeli military budget to the new situation. On March 3, 2011, Iranian warships passed the canal again, and the passage caused a sensation in the media: "The passage had made political waves, especially in Israel."

Expansion of the channel in 2014/15

Egypt announced an expansion program for the canal in 2014 and began the construction of a new, approximately 37 km long section between the Ballah-By-Pass and the By-Pass, which leads into the Bitter Lake, in August of that year. The new canal runs east of the existing canal in a mostly almost straight stretch and leads past the narrow arch at the Timsahsee. At the same time, the existing (western) by-pass routes were expanded and deepened.

The new canal allows ships to pass through in both directions at the same time. The construction period initially estimated at three years was reduced to one year. The construction costs, including additional infrastructure measures, are expected to amount to around US $ 9 billion, originally around US $ 4 billion. The dredger works were among other things. carried out by the companies DEME , Jan de Nul Group , Royal Boskalis Westminster and Van Oord . The new canal was tested for a week with container ships and officially opened on August 6, 2015. Egypt expects future annual revenues of US $ 13.2 billion versus US $ 5.3 billion today. However, experts see this value as excessive, as the channel was only 70 percent full.

Current channel


Oil tanker Iran Nesa in the Suez Canal

The Suez Canal has been able to accommodate loaded ships of 240,000 DWT since 2010 . According to information from the Suez Canal Authority from January 2010, all current commercial ships can pass unloaded with ballast, including large tankers (VLCC and ULCC). Fully loaded, 62.6% of the tankers, 96.8% of the bulk carriers and 100% of the container ships and other ships can pass. In principle, the Suez Canal can also be navigated by special ships such as drilling platforms , pontoons , etc. Ships that are too big for the Suez Canal are called Capesize .

Routing and dimensions


Driving south Entrance to the by-pass north of the Great Bitter Lake

In the north, the Suez Canal begins with the entrance to the port of Port Said or the Eastern Entrance, which serves to relieve the port and as an approach to the new eastern port. After approx. 18 km the eastern branch joins the main canal leading directly south from Port Said. This continues through the alluvial land formerly known as Menzalehsee, which has largely disappeared under agricultural areas, and through the two halves of the village of El Qantara until it reaches the Ballah-By-Pass after about 33.5 km, which has a length of 10 km replaced the former Ballahsee. After a slight bend towards SSW and another 17 km, the canal reaches Lake Timsah with the city of Ismailia . Since 2009 the canal has been running in a curve with a large radius on the eastern edge of the lake. After 16 km the by-pass begins, which leads in a south-easterly direction into the Großer Bittersee and the waiting areas there. Together with this by-pass, the bitter lakes that merge into one another have a length of approx. 40 km. A slight curve and the last stretch of approx. 27.25 km, which leads directly to the south, lead to the exit in Port Taufiq, right next to the port of Suez.

The new canal, which was opened in 2015, is around 37 km long and runs east of the previous canal, begins at the end of the Ballah-By-Pass, cuts the curve at Timsahsee in an almost straight line and ends at the by-pass that leads into the Großer Bitteree. Together with the existing by-passes and depressions in the Bitter Lake, this results in a 72 km long route on which it is possible to travel in both directions in separate channels or fairways at the same time.

In terms of shipping, the Suez Canal begins at the buoy , which marks the beginning of the entrance channel and waiting areas 22 km before Port Said and ends 9 km south of the southern exit of Port Taufiq. This results in a total length of 193.30 km.


The canal originally had an overland length of 162.25 km (Port Said to Ismailia : 78.5 km; Ismailia to Port Taufiq: 83.75 km). From Port Said, a 2.4 km long breakwater leads out into the Mediterranean Sea, which was originally intended to keep the Nile mud washed up by the west-east current.

In the course of the deepening in 2009, a curve with a large radius was built, with which the Timsahsee with its narrow curve was left to the side. This shortened the length of the canal slightly.

The parallel canal, opened in 2015, almost completely straightens the stretch between the Ballah-By-Pass and the Great Bitter Lake and shortens the length for one direction of travel by around one kilometer.

Scheme of enlarging the cross-section of the duct

The canal has had a water depth of 24 meters since 2010 (compared to originally eight meters in 1869 and 1872 after the final completion).

In the north, the canal is 345 m wide at the water level and 215 m wide at the bottom. In the south, the corresponding dimensions are 280 m and 195 m.

The cross-section of the canal is 4800 m² in the north and 4350 m² in the south. The graphic opposite gives an impression of the enlargement of the canal compared to the original 304 m².


The tidal range is 0.5 to 0.7 m in Port Said (in the north) and 0.8 m to 1.4 m in Suez (in the south) (according to other information up to 2 m). The Suez Canal therefore only has a low tidal current at the southern end.

Meeting places

The canal is still used in a single lane. It therefore had three meeting points totaling 78 km in length: Port Said Eastern Entrance, Ballah By-Pass, Great Bitter Lake with waiting areas. The 72 km long stretch from the Ballah-By-Pass to the exit of the Great Bitter Lake became accessible in both directions thanks to the new section of canal.


Ferry connection in the Suez Canal

In addition to the 14 ferry connections with 36 ferries (car and passenger ferries) there are two bridges, a tunnel and canal or line crossings. Further tunnels are planned following the construction of the new canal section.

Suez Canal Bridge

Suez Canal Bridge

About three kilometers south of al-Qantara, the Suez Canal Bridge (until 2011: Mubarak Peace Bridge ), called the four-lane cable - stayed bridge, crosses the canal at a height of 70 m. Their clear height is therefore 2 m higher than the maximum permissible height (68 m) of the ships. The longest span of the bridge, which is 3.9 km long, is 404 m and the pylons are 154 m high. The structure was built with Japanese support and opened on October 9, 2001 by President Mubarak . It is part of a larger project to develop the Sinai.

El Ferdan Bridge

El Ferdan Bridge

About twelve kilometers north of Ismailia there has been a rail and road bridge again since 2001. The el ferdan railway bridge with 340 m span the longest swing bridge in the world. Two bridges had already been built on the same spot: the first one from 1954 was demolished, the one from 1963 was destroyed in 1967 in the war with Israel. The current bridge was built by a consortium led by Krupp Stahlbau GmbH & Co. KG . 30 ° 39 '25.3 "  N , 32 ° 20' 3.7"  E

Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel

Western entrance of the Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel

The Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel , a road tunnel under the Suez Canal with one lane each, was originally opened in 1983. Soon after, leaks began to emerge, which required extensive renovation work, which was carried out from 1992 to 1995 with the support of Japan. The tunnel creates a connection between Cairo and the Sinai peninsula , is 17 km north of Suez and is 1,704 m long and 42 m deep. 30 ° 5 ′ 26 ″  N , 32 ° 34 ′ 15 ″  E The tunnel is named after Ahmed Hamdi (1929–1973), an Egyptian engineer and general in the Yom Kippur War .

Irrigation canal at Serapeum

At Serapeum , an irrigation canal crosses the Suez Canal in a culvert . 30 ° 27 ′ 19 ″  N , 32 ° 20 ′ 59 ″  E

As Salam Canal

With the As Salam Canal (Peace Canal ) , water from the Damietta arm of the Nile is conducted to the east. It passes under the Suez Canal about 27 km south of Port Said ( 31 ° 1 ′ 8.4 ″  N , 32 ° 18 ′ 36.7 ″  E ). The canal is part of a large development project that provides for the irrigation and settlement of large arid areas in the north of the Sinai Peninsula. The first section was completed in 1996, the culvert under the Suez Canal in October 1997. In 2009 it can be seen in Google Earth that the canal, named after its sponsor Sheikh el Djaber el Sabbah, the Emir of Kuwait, was extended by 78 km (as the crow flies) to the east. A junction leads west of the Suez Canal to the south to the area of ​​the bitter lakes. As with many large irrigation projects, the water quality, the size of the project, its costs and the effects on the areas are discussed controversially. Its continuation is up for debate.

Overhead line crossing

A 500 kV overhead line has been crossing the Suez Canal about eight kilometers north of Port Taufiq since 1998. Since a passage height of 152 meters was required, the masts used for this line had to be 226 meters high. Both masts are equipped with four cross members , three cross members for the conductors and an additional cross member to intercept falling conductors in the event of an insulator break. 29 ° 59 '46.7 "  N , 32 ° 35' 1.5"  E

Shortening the distances

For most of the shipping between the North Atlantic (USA and Europe) and the Middle East / Asia , the use of the Suez Canal shortens the distances considerably.

Route examples via Suez Canal
( nautical miles )
via Cape Town
(nautical miles)
(nautical miles)
in %
Ras Tanura - Rotterdam 6,436 11,169 4,733 42
Ras Tanura - New York City 8,281 11,794 3,513 30th
Singapore - Rotterdam 8,281 11,755 3,474 30th

Management of the channel

Port Said , the Orcades in the foreground course south , the Suez Canal Authority building in the background , November 1957

The canal is owned by the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), which has existed since July 26, 1956 and is responsible for the operation, maintenance, repair and expansion of the canal and the safety of traffic. It draws up the traffic rules (Rules of Navigation) and the fee tables (Tolls) and collects the fees.

Safety precautions

The canal is monitored by the aforementioned traffic control system. The Rules of Navigation contain detailed requirements for the technical equipment of the ships. Among other things, strong spotlights, mooring lines and boats for mooring (including the locally licensed crew) must be carried. There are bollards every 125 m along the canal for mooring the ships. The SCA keeps tugs ready for emergencies. The traffic is practically accident-free. Nevertheless, the 85,000 DWT oil tanker Tropic blocked the fairway for a few days in November 2004 due to an engine failure. On March 23, 2021, the container ship Ever Given, sailing under the Panamanian flag, crossed its way from Yangshan to Rotterdam and, with its 400 m length, completely blocked the canal not far from the southern entrance at Suez until March 29, 2021.

traffic system

Passage through the Bitter Lake in October 2014: A ship convoy traveling south drives through, a convoy traveling north is waiting in the lake
South end of the canal, Port of Suez, October 2014

The ship traffic is monitored and controlled by a radar and computer-controlled traffic control system.

A pilot is compulsory in the entire canal. Four pilots are responsible for each trip, namely for:

  • the northern entrance to Port Said
  • Port Said to Ismailia
  • Ismailia to Port Taufiq (Suez)
  • Port Taufiq to the open sea

The maximum speed is 11-16 km / h depending on the section of the route and the tidal current in the southern end of the canal. A minimum distance of 2 to 3 km must be observed.

It is driven like in one-way traffic and in convoys, which are compiled by the Suez Canal Authority according to certain criteria (hazard classes, ship categories, notification time).

Since the new section of the canal was opened in 2015, a convoy has been running in both directions every day, at 3:30 a.m. from Port Said and at 4:00 a.m. from Port Taufiq / Suez. Both convoys can pass through the now parallel canal sections without stopping.

This shortens the transit time for both convoys to eleven hours. In addition, a reduction in waiting times at the canal entrances from the previous eight to eleven hours to just three hours is expected. It is hoped that the number of daily ship passages will increase from 45 at present to 97 ships in the long term.

Permitted ship sizes

The maximum permissible draft has been 66 ft or 20.1 m since January 2010.  This applies to ships up to a width of 50 m. The maximum draft is gradually reduced to 40 ft or 12.2 m for wider ships for ships with a width of 254 ft 3 in or 77.49 m. It is planned to deepen the escape channels accordingly. A feasibility study for a further enlargement of the draft to 72 ft or 21.95 m is in progress.

The length of the ships is not limited.

The maximum permitted height is 68 m.

The maximum permitted width is:

  • 254 ft 3 in or 77.49 m on special request from SCA
  • 245 ft 3 in or 74.75 m at wind speeds below 10 kn
  • 210 ft or 64.0 m without restrictions.


The fees are calculated according to a table based on the "Suez Canal Net Tonnage" (SCNT) in special drawing rights and can currently (2021) be paid in US dollars , euros , pounds sterling and six other currencies. The toll for ships flying the Egyptian flag, chartered by or owned by Egyptians can also be paid in the local currency.

The Suez Canal Net Tonnage results from the "Suez Canal Special Tonnage Certificate", which every ship needs on every entry and which is issued by the various classification societies. The rules for this ship surveying were originally laid down by an international commission in Constantinople in 1873 and can now be found in the Rules of Navigation of the Suez Canal Authority after interim additions and adjustments to the development of shipbuilding.

In 2012, the Suez Canal Authority earned US $ 5,129.7 million for the passage of a total of 17,225 ships, an average of around US $ 298,000 per ship. The fees are so high that it may be worthwhile for shipping companies (depending on the general conditions, e.g. price of fuel , charter rate and cruise speed; see slow steaming ) to drive the route around the Cape of Good Hope . For example, the “Nevada” with a capacity of 12,552 TEU needs 0.136 tons of fuel per nautical mile for about half the journey (11 knots). Since the sea route Rotterdam-Singapore is shortened by approx. 3500 nautical miles through the Suez Canal, a saving of 452,000 US dollars results at a price of 950 US dollars per ton of fuel (2021). On the other hand, a ton of marine diesel cost around $ 150 in 2016, so the savings were then only $ 71,000, which made the passage through the Suez Canal unattractive. However, fuel costs are only one aspect. Scheduled freight travels up to 7 days shorter through the Suez Canal than around the Cape of Good Hope.

Ship accidents (selection)

In September 1905 the English freighter Chatham, loaded with 70 tons of dynamite , caught fire in the canal and then sank. The wreck blocked the fairway. Experts removed the hull by blowing it up and then the debris was recovered by divers.

On September 29, 2014, the cargo ships Colombo Express (flying the German flag) and Maersk Tanjong (Singapore) collided about nine kilometers south of Port Said . The accident, in which there were no injuries, caused delays in the canal.

In 2017, a Japanese container ship ran aground, blocking shipping traffic and using tugs operated by the Egyptian authorities to get it back on the road within hours.

The Ever Given blocked the canal for six days after an accident

On March 23, 2021, the 400-meter-long and 59-meter-wide container ship Ever Given ran aground six kilometers northeast of Suez. It is made by Taiwanese Evergreen Marine Corp. operates and sails under the Panamanian flag. As a result, since the recovery or towing of the damaged ship with dredgers and tugs was difficult, traffic jams quickly developed in both directions. The owners of Ever Given asked the rescue service Smit Salvage for help. After six days, it was possible to uncover the Ever Given again and make it fit to drive, as well as clearing the canal.

Freshwater Canal - Ismailia Canal

Ismailia Canal, 1990
Ismailia Canal, around 1860

Since the isthmus of Suez was originally almost a desert without drinking water, it was already determined in the first concession that a freshwater channel from the Nile to Ismailia and on to Suez had to be built together with the Suez Canal . Accordingly, the freshwater canal , mostly known as the Ismailia Canal , now runs from the Nile near Cairo through the Wadi Tumilat to Ismailia. From there a southern branch leads south over Suez, another branch leads to El Qantara and from there parallel to the Suez Canal to Port Said. These canals are now part of extensive irrigation areas.

The Ismailia Canal now serves to supply around 12 million people along this canal, especially in Ismailia and Suez, and is subordinate to the Suez Canal Authority . It has a width of mostly 60 m and a depth of 4.6 m shortly after Cairo and 2.5 m near Ismailia, whereby the depth varies with the seasons. Since the canal was built in the traditional way, it is in contact with the groundwater, from which it receives significant amounts of water during the period of low water (January to March) and to which it in turn releases large amounts during the high water levels. The canal water is polluted by damage to the embankments as well as industry, agriculture and residential developments located directly on its banks. When the water is low, algae form.

There are eight water treatment plants between Cairo and Ismailia, in which the water is filtered and chlorinated. According to a study carried out in 2004, the treated water is free from coli bacteria , but otherwise microbiologically, organically and inorganically contaminated. The study therefore suggested that modern treatment methods should first be tested for their effectiveness in the local climate and then applied accordingly.


  • Marco Althaus : The Canal Workers of the Suez Company . In: Politics & Communication . July 2011, p. 38–29 ( online [PDF; 164 kB ; accessed on March 8, 2014]).
  • Walter Paul Kirsch: Luigi Negrelli. A genius, his time, his life and his work. The creator of the Suez Canal . Jugend und Volk, Vienna / Munich 1971, ISBN 3-8113-1433-5 ((Munich) / ISBN 3-7141-1433-5 (Vienna)).
  • Ferdinand von Lesseps, Wilhelm Treue (introduction): Origin of the Suez Canal . Reprint of the edition Berlin 1888. In: Klassiker der Technik . VDI, Düsseldorf 1991, ISBN 3-18-400642-5 ( facsimile in Gothic script ).
  • Rudolf Majonica: With the ship through the desert . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1988, ISBN 3-451-21281-1 .
  • Mission X. On the trail of ingenious explorers and inventors . Book accompanying the ZDF series. In: Günter Myrell, Daniel Manthey (Ed.): Premium . 1st edition. Dtv 24580, Munich 2006, ISBN 978-3-423-24580-7 , Ferdinant de Lesseps, Sueskanal.
  • Wolfgang G. Schwanitz (Ed.): 125 years of the Suez Canal: Lauchhammers Eisenguß am Nil (=  historical texts and studies . Volume 18 ). Olms, Hildesheim 1998, ISBN 3-487-10315-X .

Web links

Commons : Suez channel  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Suez Canal  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: The Suez Canal  - Sources and full texts


  1. Suez Canal , on
  2. ^ Canal Characteristics., accessed November 24, 2017 .
  3. ^ New Suez Canal on the website of the SCA - Suez Canal Authority
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  5. ^ Suez Canal. Traffic Statistics: Yearly Number & Net Tone by Ship Type, Direction & Ship Status ( Memento from August 15, 2016 in the Internet Archive )
  6. November 23, 2020: All roads lead to Asia
  7. ^ Convention of Constantinople: French and English treaty text at Wikisource
  8. SCA, Rules of Navigation, Generalities, Art. 2 - Agents, Section 3
  9. Schörner: Artificial shipping canals in antiquity . In: Skyllis - Journal for Underwater Archeology (Skyllis) Volume 3, Issue 1, 2000, pp. 38–43
  10. ^ Memory of the Suez Canal. UNESCO - Memory of the World, 1997, accessed July 13, 2014 .
  11. ^ Salis, The Suez Canal , article in the Allgemeine Bauzeitung, 1883; digitized on ÖNB-ANNO
  12. Michel Mégnin: LEON & LEVY, puis LEVY & FILS ("LL") ( Memento of December 26, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) (in French) on the website of the Dictionnaire des orientalistes de langue française , accessed on December 26, 2013
  13. Structurae , French data sheet
  14. See the new Suez Canal to be opened on Thursday in Verkehrsrundschau on August 4, 2015.
  15. 50 years ago: "Liberation" of the Suez Canal. In: November 22, 2012, accessed August 7, 2015 .
  16. Wolfgang Scharrnbeck: Captains tell: Trapped in the Suez Canal. In: Spiegel Online . May 17, 2008, accessed August 7, 2015 .
  17. ^ Post from the Great Bitter Lake. Retrieved March 25, 2021 .
  18. Iranian muscle games ?: Israel worried about penetration into the Mediterranean. In: February 22, 2011, accessed August 7, 2015 .
  19. Israel outraged: Iranian ships through Suez Canal. In: February 16, 2011, accessed August 7, 2015 .
  20. ^ Suez Canal: Transit of Iranian ships postponed - Iran - ›International. February 26, 2011, accessed March 25, 2021 .
  21. Iranian warships pass through the Suez Canal. In: March 3, 2011, accessed August 7, 2015 .
  22. Graphical representation  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. on the Suez Canal Authority website@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  23. ^ Patrick Kingsley: Egypt to build new Suez canal. In: August 20, 2014, accessed August 7, 2015 .
  24. ^ New Suez Canal project proposed by Egypt to boost trade. Cairo News.Net , accessed August 7, 2014 .
  25. Expansion announced . In: Schiff & Hafen , issue 9/2014, p. 20
  26. Project report (English)
  27. New Suez Canal: The first ships are through. In: Spiegel Online . July 25, 2015. Retrieved July 25, 2015 .
  28. New navigation channel of the Suez Canal is opened. Two lanes through the desert. (No longer available online.), August 6, 2015, archived from the original on August 7, 2015 ; Retrieved August 6, 2015 .
  29. Pictures of the construction site. In: August 6, 2015, accessed August 7, 2015 .
  30. Martin Gehlen: New Suez Canal: The million spectacle. In: . August 4, 2015, accessed August 7, 2015 .
  31. Most information about the current canal is based on the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) website
  32. SCA website ( Memento of November 18, 2017 in the Internet Archive )
  33. Chapter V of the Rules of Navigation, Appendix No. 1: Special Cases Transit in
  34. Website of the port of Said ( Memento of April 30, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  35. The dimensions are approximate, taken from Google Earth
  36. ^ The Suez Canal: historical flashback ( Memento of February 17, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  37. For comparison, the clear height of some other bridges: Ponte 25 de Abril , Lisbon, Tejo: 70 m; Ponte da Arrábida , Porto, Douro: 70 m; Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge , New York: 66-69 m; Golden Gate Bridge , San Francisco: 67 m; Bosphorus Bridges , Istanbul: 64 m; Storebæltsbroen , Great Belt: 65 m; Köhlbrand Bridge , Port of Hamburg: 53 m.
  38. ^ Mubarak Peace Bridge Suez Canal Egypt ( Memento from September 21, 2015 in the Internet Archive ), Pont sur le canal de Suez
  39. ^ Rehabilitation of the Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel under the Suez Canal. In: Retrieved August 7, 2015 .
  40. As-Salam Canal (English)
  41. Dietrich Alexander: The president wants to let the desert bloom with all his might. Die Welt, March 9, 1999, accessed on July 1, 2021 : “Four tunnels, each 770 meters long, guide the water from the Salaam Canal under the Suez Canal into the Sheikh el Djaber el Sabbah Canal. This canal, named after one of its sponsors - the emir of Kuwait - will, according to the ideas of the Egyptian planners, guide the water of the Nile into the El Arish Valley in northern Sinai, 175 kilometers east of the Suez Canal, and bring about 300,000 hectares of desert to life . "
  42. ^ The revival of Al Salam Canal, supposed to develop Sinai ( Memento from April 26, 2014 in the Internet Archive ), Egypt Independent, May 21, 2012
  43. Because of the high voltage, the line must be considerably higher than the maximum ship height of 68 meters.
  44. Saving in distance via SC on the SCA website
  45. Michael Kröger: Average: Tanker blocks Suez Canal. In: Spiegel Online . November 8, 2004, accessed August 7, 2015 .
  46. a b DER SPIEGEL: Container ship lies across the Suez Canal - everything is locked. Retrieved March 24, 2021 .
  47. a b Egypt: Container ship blocks Suez Canal, March 24, 2021, accessed March 24, 2021
  48. a b EVER GIVEN Current position (Container Ship, IMO 9811000) - VesselFinder. Retrieved March 24, 2021 .
  49. Sailboats also need a pilot, if not one of the pilots for large shipping.
  50. 13 km / h corresponds to 7 kn
  51. Details are regulated in the Rules of Navigation
  52. ↑ The following rule applied until 2014: Two convoys left Port Said every day: “N1” at midnight and “N2” at 7 a.m. A convoy “S” departs from Port Taufiq / Suez every day at 6 am. In a seemingly complicated encounter system, “N1” in the large Bitter Lake and “N2” in the Ballah-By-Pass waited for oncoming traffic, while convoy “S” passed through from the south without stopping and left the canal in Port Said through the eastern by-pass . In 2014 the direction of direct passage was changed. After that, the south-facing ships sailed non-stop through the canal, while the north-facing ships had to stop.
  53. ^ Paul-Anton Krüger: Everything is Egyptian. "For the first time in four years positive news": This week the second lane of the Suez Canal will be opened. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung, August 3, 2015, p. 3.
  54. ^ Rules of Navigation, Ch. III, Sec. II, Table No. 4 Beam and Draft Loaded Vessels ( Memento from February 6, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
  55. a b c Art. 52 Rules of Navigation
  56. Because of the clearance height of the Suez Canal Bridge of 70 m
  57. A comparison with the list of the largest ships in the world shows that the width is not very critical in practice: the largest oil tanker TI Oceania (formerly Hellespont Fairfax) can only pass through the channel unloaded due to its draft, the largest cruise ships fail because of the height , the largest aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) has passed through the canal several times despite the width on the flight deck. The largest container ship, the Emma-Mærsk with a width of 56.4 m and a draft of only 16.5 m can pass. Even the largest sailing ship, the Royal Clipper , only has a mast height of 54 m, whereas the Mirabella V , the largest single-masted sailing yacht in the world, with a mast height of 88.5 m, could not pass. With a draft of 23.04 m, the bulk carrier Berge Stahl can only operate between Rotterdam and two places in Brazil and South Africa. Even the semi-submersible Blue Marlin would have problems only because of the size of the cargo.
  58. Art . 106 Rules of Navigation of the SCA, page 323
  59. Regulations for the Measurement of tonnage recommended by the International Tonnage Commission assembled at Constantinople in 1873 (Minutes of the proceeding XXI Appendix II)
  60. ^ Ship surveying # Suez Canal Special Tonnage Certificate
  61. Art. 96–98
  62. Brief Yearly Statistics ( Memento from September 29, 2015 in the Internet Archive )
  63. Grand Alliance: EU3 service will in future operate around the Cape of Good Hope ( Memento from February 2, 2014 in the Internet Archive ), press release from February 23, 2009, Hapag-Lloyd
  64. 36 tons of daily consumption / (11 knots * 24 h) = 0.136 tons of fuel per nautical mile. Refuel once for 5.3 million euros . Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , March 28, 2013
  65. 15 facts about the worldwide movement of goods . Technology and Purchasing, Jul 14, 2017
  66. ^ The dynamite ship blown up , Berliner Tageblatt , September 29, 1905.
  67. Massive container ships collide near Suez Canal. In: September 30, 2014, accessed August 7, 2015 .
  68. Gerald Hosp: An artery of world trade is blocked: What are the effects of the blockade of the Suez Canal? In: , January 25, 2021, accessed on January 25, 2021.
  69. Claus Hecking: Accident in the Suez Canal: How a stuck freighter endangers the worldwide movement of goods. In: Der Spiegel. Retrieved March 24, 2021 .
  70. Container ship "Ever Given" exposed in the Suez Canal. Accessed March 31, 2021 .
  71. The freshwater canals are clearly visible in Google Earth.
  72. Measurement with Google Earth
  73. This and the following information are based on: Mohamed H. Geriesh, Klaus-Dieter Balke, Ahmed E. El-Rayes, Problems of drinking water treatment along Ismailia Canal Province, Egypt, 2004, PMC 2266887 (free full text), accessed on 14 July 2009