The venerable Suez Canal was opened in 1869. A remarkable achievement, it reduced travel distance between Asia and Europe by as much as 4,300 miles. In the post–World War II years the canal was beginning to show its age—not so much in the condition of its infrastructure as for its decreasing capacity in a world full of increasingly larger, more efficient ships.
About 18,000 ships a year now transit the canal, carrying 8 percent of the world’s trade. But in recent years traffic has been increasingly limited by width and depth factors. Insufficient width meant traffic could move in only one direction at a time. Depth limits meant that larger vessels could not be accommodated, even though trends in the global maritime industry were toward bigger ships.
In August 2014 the Egyptian government began an $8 billion upgrade program to create “the New Suez Canal.” It was to take three years; however, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ordered it to be completed in one year. And it was; the canal became operational this past August.