Suez Canal Transit Dossier and Musings

Queen Mary ahead in the mist – the ships make caravans with cruisers / liners in front of containers and fuelers

+ Suez Transit Dossier and Musings +

If i was crafty and timely, woulda shared these snaps a few weeks when Ever Given was blocking up the flow of the Suez Canal (yeah you saw this…) i had/have a lot to say about it all and well, lot of more important things to do (nursery school!) so just didn’t get to it, but today is now, so: 

up early to note the transit – takes most of a day to work through / and yes the desert is chilly

Quick annotations:

  • Suez isn’t “squared off” with tidy concrete walls and locks
  • Was dug mostly by hand/buckets
  • Ships assemble caravans at either end and go very slow
  • Winds are weird (really) which makes mishaps not shocking and coordination important.
  • Don’t start with the Egyptian pilots!

Let’s begin our transit in the “staging area”… (note captions and annotations)

Ships assemble at anchor in Gulf Suez at tip of Red Sea (see also Gulf of Aqaba) and then are organized into caravans / quite enjoyed the sound the anchor chain dropping and reeling back up

Local Traffic amongst the behemoths 

Importantly, the canal is active with local ferries darting back and forth between lumbering giants. The sides are so close you can wave to folks (of course i did) and the ships in-front/behind are also so close and don’t have brakes.

Ferries time departures to slip between the ships, looking like likely collisions and almost comical variations in scale
Ferry loading up (i think East Qantara Ferryboat or the West Qantara Ferry – regardless, wave hello (they did)

people just living like for centuries

Japan <> Egypt Friendship aka Peace (and other names) bridge 

Keep a safe distance behind and ensure ship fits under bridge

Didn’t know about this bridge before approaching it and thought immediately how similar it looked to the bridge is going to Japanese island of Shikoku across inland sea. Later realized indeed this is a Japanese built bridge although the name has changed a few times to reflect certain political figures and notions: Peace Bridge, Al Salam Bridge, Mubarak Bridge. A few views: 

lovely looking town of El-Qantara el-Sharqîya صوامع القنطره شرق at beginning of Japan Egypt Friendship (etc) Bridge
Details of the suspension for you engineers
seems rather small from here but who, connecting 2 continents, 1 country and epochs of history. Moses coulda just walked!

Along the banks, life carries on… 

Along the banks are towns, cities, Mosques, statutes, military bases, check points, flags and “life” as per epochs

Helicopters and other military materiel, not surprising considering the conflicts in this region, alas
Mosque, obv (hear some calls to prayers from other ones in Postcard pod including “Listening to Sea” and “Circumnavigation of Sorts”
Flags of some kind – you can see how soft and shifting the sand is and how can easily backfill the canal or jam a ship
statue to many workers who died digging this canal out by hand (#colonialism #hubris etc)
the canal ain’t straight cakewalk – aye, 1 point to port! or is it 2?

Navigational Conundrums

The canals has curves and turns and wind shears across desert in gusts hitting massive ships broadside at unpredictable angles – In other words, really surprising that sorta incident doesn’t happen more often.

Sometimes when the canal is “2 lane” you can see smoke stacks of ships on the other channel.

smoke stacks in a “two lane” section – there are a few overtaking areas and lakes – all has to be timed to N > S and S > N traffic can sort out

Well might as well add a satellite grab for a bit of context, you can see the 2 channel section, the aforementioned bridge (highway 40), the ferry docks, and yup the lil rectangles in the canal are obv ships (click click

Suez canal section with bridge, 2 channel and ferry docks

Lawyers and other Suits

BTW, the insurance companies and other representative’s of the ship’s owner (Japanese), lessee (Taiwanese), flag-country (Panama) and goods holders (everywhere) and underwriters / re-insurers (UK), oh plus the Egyptian canal authority (they have a FB page! – don’t read the comments) are gonna be squabbling for years and buying boats for a lot of lawyers.

Part of the canal is a lake so ships can hang out and let others overtake or do maintenance i suppose

Ever Given is still in Great Bitter Lake (late April 2021) as i understand – fully laden and awaiting resolution of at least 1 round of fines and whatnot. Have a heart for the crew (only about a dozen on that massive ship) who are well, just *there* and can’t send remittance to family (likely in Philippines, Indonesia or maybe India). Not easy times.

Update: Suez Canal authority has given permission for the crew to leave as long as they are replaced with sufficient to ensure safety – does not mean they are permitted to remain in Egypt or anyone is paying for them to travel and quarantine somewhere… – but captain must remain on board as custodial representative.

Aside: Funniest was all the “advice” from folks about how to re-stuck the ship, oh wait, the really funniest was people whining that gonna impact their fidget spinner or whatever shipment from Chin-mazon.

Anyhow, felt a like Richie Tenenbaum transiting the canal somehow.

Questions etc

When?: Somewhere in the “lost years” I get a bit confused but 2017 I think.

More?: I did a lot of poetry writing and ambient soundscapes recordings on a long trip from Nepal to Turkey by various forms of transportation (avoiding pirates).

So there i was… transiting the Suez canal by ship – no i wasn’t at the helm but i did make a podcast about disappearing to sea – you should totally listen via “Postcards from Gravelly Beach” channel  to take you on the space cruise: Listening to Sea – Postcard #74

Geo-geekery?: Yes, Suez Canal: Satellite Clues on a Stricken Cargo Ship

More Asides

Also 1: did you know that in the 1960s the US had a plan to make another Canal to the east through “more friendly” territory by designating 40+ nuclear bombs underground? Way faster than digging right!

Also 2: frequently the idea is floated to dig a canal sharp west from Red Sea to Nile and transport goods by barge via the Nile (which naturally flows south to north) to the Mediterranean. Old time Egyptians did something similar / remnants of old canal remain…


I have more to say about how surprising there aren’t more incidents of groundings, collisions & other occurrences (& there are more piracy incidents than are widely reported through strait & more unique precautions than i expected).

Regardless this is me dropping a few fuzzy memories in glen plaid from a chilly desert morning watching bustle, bridges & history roll by at 25 knots (give or take).

Thinking more about the weary workers stuck on ships months at a time without port call to send remittances back to eager families than i am about delay of fidget spinners etc shipped from Cathay.

fuzzy memories in glen plaid from a chilly desert morning – the the transit was long enough for outfit changes :)

So much more than expected. Thanks for coming with me.

at the end of the day comes the Mediterranean

Whatcha think?