Analyzing the Suez Canal

The Suez Canal had its 150th inaugural anniversary last week.  Since opening on November 17, 1869, it ushered in a new shipping era dominated by steam ships, gave reason to both create a single registration authority and standardize how ships are measured for fair toll treatment, influenced ship design and facilitated Asia’s economic growth through the 20th century.  By providing the shortest maritime-route between Europe and Asia via a 100 mile (160 km) long canal connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas at Port’s Said and Tewfik, respectively, the Suez Canal quickly became one of world’s most important waterways – strategically and economically – and has remained in that category ever since despite geopolitical instability.

“Using Global Vigilance VSS, we project total transits in 2019 should exceed 2018 since over 17,000 transits have been made this year.”

Commercial steamers mostly used the Suez Canal for nearly a century as sailing vessels were ill-equipped to navigate through variable wind conditions and marine motor technology was in its infancy.  Approximately 3,000 transits per annum or eight transits per day occurred between 1870 and 1940, a relatively stable amount for a half century.  Modest increases to that amount occurred over the next 27 years prior to its eight-year closure starting on June 5, 1967.  Then, over the ten years after re-opening on June 5, 1975, the number of transits per annum nearly quadrupled on average, but has struggled to achieve consistent growth ever since.   Having peaked in 1982 at 22,545 or 62 per day, the total number of transits per annum has passed 20,000 only four times – 1983, 1984, 2007 and 2008.  For reference, there were 18,174 transits in 2018 or nearly 50 transits per day.

Despite inconsistent transit growth, the total net tonnage passing through the Suez Canal has steadily increased almost every year since opening – up from 436,609 tons in 1870 (first full year of operation) to 1,139,630,000 tons in 2018.  Larger, higher-capacity vessels were used for transporting goods to offset the use of more, lower-capacity vessels at higher operating costs, collectively.  Though expensive to transit, especially for larger, underutilized vessels as the toll rate is typically more than $250,000 USD, the Suez Canal has significant competitive advantages in geography and logistics and the Suez Canal Authority, in addition to infrastructure control, has pricing power to adjust tolls and fees based on market conditions.  Therefore, net tonnage increases are expected to continue.

Suez Canal AOR.  Global Vigilance.  All rights reserved.
Suez Canal AOR. Global Vigilance. All rights reserved.

Through yesterday, November 26th, over 1,400 vessels transited the Suez Canal this month.  Using Global Vigilance VSS, I quickly created an area of responsibility (AOR) around the Suez Canal region, including its lakes and passing bays.  Then I used filters to narrow down the results by removing auxiliary support units, such as tug and surveying vessels, based on vessel type on the Dashboard.  Since there are still four full days left in this month, total transits should exceed – just barely – the same period last year.  Additionally, total transits in 2019 should exceed 2018 since over 17,000 transits have been made this year despite weakness in a couple months.

Separately, having been asked who the main companies are that use the Suez Canal, I opened the Data Viewer.  VSS Data Viewer is the business intelligence capability that enables users to visually analyze maritime data.  With its reporting feature, I launched a Treemap Visualization to show a relative usage comparison by company and vessel type.  China COSCO Shipping Company, Moller-Maersk and MSC are among its major consumers.

Suez Canal Treemap. Global Vigilance.  All rights reserved.
Suez Canal Treemap. Global Vigilance. All rights reserved.

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