CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi approved Tuesday the widening and deepening of the southern part of the Suez Canal, after a stranded mega-ship crippled the critical maritime artery for six days in March.
“What you heard today is about the upgrade in the southern stretch, where the problem (the grounded vessel) happened,” El-Sisi said from Ismailia, where the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) is headquartered.
The major engineering enhancement “will lead to improvements in the ability of the guide (SCA) and the captain of any ship to navigate inside the canal,” said SCA head Osama Rabie, who presented the expansion plan to El-Sisi in a televised address.
Rabie said the upgrades would stretch “from the 122-kilometer mark to the 162-kilometer mark” and would include a 10-kilometer "duplication of the canal from the 122 to the 132-kilometer mark.”
The project will last 24 months, he added, with the widening extending lanes “by 40 meters (131 feet) to the east and deepening from 66 feet (20 meters) to 72 feet.”
El-Sisi said the work would improve the canal, “taking into account the growth of global trade.”
The 200,000-tonne MV Ever Given got diagonally stuck in the narrow but crucial global trade artery in a sandstorm on March 23, triggering a mammoth six-day-long effort by Egyptian personnel and international salvage specialists to dislodge it.
Egypt lost between $12 million and $15 million in revenues for each day the waterway was closed, according to SCA figures.
After the vessel was freed, Sisi pledged investment to avoid any repetition of the canal closure.
The mega-ship has since been impounded in a lake between two stretches of the canal amid a compensation dispute.
A court in Ismailia last week rejected an appeal from the ship's Japanese owners against its seizure.
Egypt spent more than $8 billion on an expansion of the northern section of the canal in 2014-15.