Opinion

Egypt’s New Suez Canal, and the machines essential for development

The New Suez Canal project featured in this month’s issue of Construction Machinery ME may not be the most expensive infrastructure project in the Middle East, but it’s certainly the biggest project completed this year, with its gargantuan earthworks and dredging efforts.

For the total works on the Suez Canal, along 72 kilometres of the existing canal, nearly half a billion cubic metres of material has been shifted by machine or cut by the suction dredgers. It’s a vivid demonstration of the power of machines to reconfigure the Earth according to the vision of man.

READ MORE: Sisi’s one-year challenge: Dredging the New Suez Canal in Egypt

The fact that the timeline for the dredging was enormously shortened by the president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, from three years to just one year, underlines the symbolic importance of the project to the country, as well as its potential to boost foreign income for the country and its economic development.

At present, approximately 8% of the world’s shipping traffic flows through the Canal, the shortest sea route between Europe and Asia, avoiding the long route around Africa’s southern tip. The Suez Canal Authority expects that the new works – which will reduce transit and waiting times for vessels – will eventually result in the daily average number of vessels that transit nearly doubling, from 49 to 97.

Associated works, as part of the wider development project, include developing land-side industry and services to multiply the value of the canal to the Egyptian economy, as well as constructing tunnels to improve access to the Sinai Peninsula. Greater sea traffic along the improved canal may also benefit the wider GCC, with seaports on the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia likely to receive more vessels.

That the 35km dredging project was completed in just ten months is a testament to the professionalism and skill of the four consortium partners, Jan de Nul, Boskalis, NMDC and Van Oord. Their combined 21 cutter suction dredgers did the heavy lifting, cumulatively responsible for dredging the 195 million cbm. But the on-shore equipment – bulldozers, excavators, wheel loaders, dump trucks and more –played a vital supporting role, allowing the dredgers to work around the clock.

READ MORE: Sisi’s one-year challenge: Dredging the New Suez Canal in Egypt

For OEMs – including Caterpillar – it’s further validation of their machines’ ability to cope with  extreme conditions, allowing customers to carry out impressive infrastructure projects. For Caterpillar, it’s also a demonstration of its ability to provide service to customers anywhere in the world.

At the end of the day, no matter how big the vision, it’s attention to detail – in this case, provisioning of spare parts, grease and repairs – that allows projects to be completed on time and within budget. The New Suez Canal is a potent demonstration of the importance of the machines at work transforming the region.

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