The New Suez Canal project is “Egypt’s gift to the world”, says the chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, Admiral Mohab Mameesh.
If that is the case, then the UAE deserves its share of credit for that.
The construction of a new stretch of waterway – which effectively doubles the canal’s capacity, allowing for two-way traffic – initially had a three-year timeline.
But that was cut to just 12 months on the order of Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatteh El Sisi.
The consortium appointed to carry out the US$1.5 billion project, led by Abu Dhabi-based National Marine Dredging Company (NMDC), completed it in nine-and-a-half months.
“We signed the contract on October 15, 2014 and construction was completed by August 1, 2015,” said Yasser Zaghloul, NMDC’s chief executive. “We are very proud, of course.”
The work involved the creation of a 35-kilometre-long parallel canal, which required the dredging of 200 million cubic metres of earth.
It achieved this by bringing together four of the world’s largest dredging contractors – NMDC, Belgium’s Jan De Nul and the Dutch companies Van Oord and Royal Boskalis Westminster.
“We had more than 70 per cent of all dredging capacity in the world,” said Mr Zaghloul.
Without this, there would have been little chance of completing the project on time, he said.
“We deployed 26 dredgers and 40 additional equipment – an unprecedented number to have been deployed in a single project,” said Mr Zaghloul.
The contractors also faced the major challenges of securing approval and clearances to use the machines and transporting them to Egypt from all over the world.
The first dredgers began operations within two weeks of the contract being signed.
“Mobilising all the dredgers and staff was a challenge, but we had a really strong logistics team to manage this,” said Mr Zaghloul.
“The difficult thing was to get all the necessary permits. But the [Suez Canal] authority was very proactive.”
At its peak, the consortium was dredging 1.5 million cubic metres of earth a month. In one month, it dredged a total of 40 million square metres of material, beating the previous record of 8 million square metres.
The project involved 2,000 people from 45 countries working around the clock to ensure its timely completion.
The Suez Canal Authority expects to increase its annual revenue from $3.5bn to $13.2bn by 2023 because of the new canal and a huge new economic zone created on its banks to drive investment.
William Jackson, an analyst with Capital Economics, said the new canal would help to “raise GDP growth, increase services exports and provide a much-needed increase in foreign currency revenues”, as well as boosting the Egyptian government’s revenues.
“Of course, how immediate the benefits are depends on how quickly the extra capacity in the canal is used.” he added.
Mr Jackson believes that Cairo’s forecast of doubling the canal’s capacity by 2023 is optimistic, especially as global trade is sluggish and the pace of economic globalisation “seems to be running out of steam”.
Nevertheless, plans to build logistics and manufacturing centres on the canal’s banks could provide an important source of employment, and boost economic productivity and living standards, he said.
Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter