Serving as it does as a direct link between the Northern and Southern regions of our planet, the Suez Canal is an obligatory element of numerous shipping routes, with several thousand vessels transiting it each year. But how are crossings organized?
A few facts and figures may help you to understand the process. The canal is 193.3 kilometers long, it is between 280 and 345 meters wide, and its depth of 24 meters guarantees enough draft for giants of the seas such as the CMA CGM JULES VERNE to be able to use it.
In order to handle the dozens of ships which use it each day the crossing is organized into alternate convoys:
- 1) A daily South-North convoy from Suez to Port Saïd
- 2) Two daily North-South convoys from Port Saïd to Suez
(This explains why we often read and hear the urgent words “We’re late! We’re going to miss the convoy!” This is not surprising because missing the allotted convoy may mean a 24-hour delay.)
Four pilots take it in turn to supervise each vessel during the four phases of a North-South crossing – entering the shipping channel, between Port Saïd and Ismaïlia, between Ismaïlia and Suez, and whilst exiting the channel. This sequence is reversed for South-North crossings. The role of the pilots is to ensure that convoys sail in a safe and disciplined manner and that they respect the intermediate signal points which are situated 10 kilometers apart.
Vessels are guided by tugs and they maintain a distance between them of approximately 1 nautical mile (1852 meters) at a speed of about 9 knots (16 kph). Total crossing time is between 11 and 16 hours.
But if 11 to 16 hours seems like a long time to you, just think back to the days when ships had to sail round the Cape of Good Hope!