Suez Canal (24 Sep 2015)
Crossing the Suez Canal
It was like watching history textbooks come alive when Peace Boat passed through the Suez Canal. There is only one way to admire the marvels of the man-made canal – to sail through it on a ship. Crossing the Suez Canal was a highly anticipated event on Peace Boat after we spent 10 days at sea.
Sailing from Doha through the Persian Gulf, we passed through the Strait of Hormuz on 11 September 2015 and protested against the new security bills which violate the Japanese Constitution and appealed to Japan and international community the importance of ensuring that Japan contributes through non-military, peaceful means, and does not participate in killing in the name of collective self-defense.
We had about a week of “pirate watch” when we sailed through the Gulf of Aden towards the Red sea. Due to the safety restrictions, we could not be outdoors after sunset but we enjoyed many magical nights of spectacular stargazing. Finally, we reached the entrance of Suez Canal and were scheduled to enter the Canal at around 4 a.m. on 24 September 2016. Everyone was so excited the night before that some people did not even sleep and there were no lessons on Suez Canal Day!
After 2 hours of meager sleep, I woke up in time to see Badr Mosque on the banks as Peace Boat slowly entered the Suez Canal. It was so surreal (maybe due to lack of sleep) to be in Suez Canal and see so many energetic participants on the deck at the wee hours of the morning. The early birds were rewarded with a magnificent sunrise which rose from the deserts flanking the canal.
The bow of the ship was opened for participants to enjoy unobstructed views of the Canal crossing. In the narrow section of the Canal, we were very close to the construction and buildings along the banks. In the wider parts of the Canal, we had panoramic views of the vast landscape surrounding us.
We went under the Suez Canal Bridge, also known as the Shohada 25 January Bridge or the Egyptian-Japanese Friendship Bridge. Crossing the Suez Canal at El Qantara, this road bridge was built with assistance from the Japanese government and it links Africa and Asia.
Crossing the Suez Canal was definitely a highlight of travelling around the world on a ship. It was just mind-blowing sailing through the canal which divides the Asian and African continents. I spent many hours just staring at the vast lands from the banks of the canal and wondering what is going on in the surrounding countries. Hopefully I will be able to visit the regions in the future view the Suez Canal from land!
10 Interesting Facts about the Suez Canal
1. Suez Canal, the world’s first artificial sea-level waterway, was opened on November 17, 1869 after about 10 years of construction.
2. It runs north to south across the Isthmus of Suez in Egypt to connect the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. It separates the African continent from Asia.
3. It provides the shortest maritime route between Europe and South Asia without circumnavigation of Africa. The sea voyage distance is reduced by about 9500 km and average journey time is cut from 20 days to just 13 hours.
4. It was built using a combination of forced Egyptian labour and state-of-the-art machinery. Some sources estimate that over 30,000 people were working on the canal at any given period and thousands of laborers died.
5. It was originally 164 km long and 8 m deep when it was first built. After several enlargements, it is 194 km long, 24 m deep and 205 m wide (as of March 2016).
6. A new Suez Canal (37 km) which runs parallel to the original Canal was built in less than a year for about $9 billion. The project whose total length is 72 km (including deepening and widening by-passes) is expected to increase the daily traffic from the present 49 to 97 ships and revenues from $5.3 billion to $13.226 billion by the year 2023.
7. It was closed five times; the last time was the most serious one since it lasted for 8 years. The Canal was then reopened for navigation on the 5 June 1975.
8. Around 8% of the world’s cargo currently passes through the canal. Charges paid by ships travelling through the Suez Canal provide an important source of income for the Egyptian government. Annual earnings from the canal were about $5.3 billion.
9. Suez Canal’s creator, Ferdinand de Lesseps tried and failed to build the Panama Canal.
10. Scientists warn that enlargement of the Suez Canal increases the flood of invasive marine species from the Red Sea and causes serious irreversible damage to the ecosystem of the Mediterranean Sea.