April 08, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 94

Day 94 - Transiting the Suez Canal. The captain rudely awakened me about 6:00 AM by raising the anchor as he prepared to move the ship into position to enter the canal. We are not the first ship in the convoy, but the second. The first is an Egyptian war ship. I say warship because it is a mile in front of me and I lack the knowledge to classify it any more specifically.

I was misinformed with some of the information I gave you yesterday, so if there is a difference, today's is more accurate. The temperature as I go out on deck is a cool 68. That won't last, by mid afternoon it is in the low 90's with bright sun, and then as we enter the Mediterranean the temperature has dropped to 70. and the humidity risen to 72%.

The expansion of the canal was completed last July, and this is the first time The Amsterdam, or the Captain, has been here. Africa is on the Port or left side of the ship, and Asia is on the Starboard or right side of the ship as we head North. Many passengers pose with their arms outstretched so it appears in a photo that they are touching both continents.

Today there are 35 ships in the North bound convoy, and about 25 in the South bound. At each end of the canal, the channel is only wide enough for one convoy. The expansion added about 20 additional miles to a section near the middle where the two convoys can pass without stopping. Traffic control assures that the last south bound vessel exits the single channel section before the north bound convoy reaches it, etc.

Total capacity of the canal is about 90 ships per day with current traffic averaging around 50. As with the Panama canal the fare structure is very complicated, but the average fare is about $250,000 per vessel. Capacity could be increased substantially if needed by reducing the spacing between ships and adding the needed inventory of tugs and personnel.

In addition to adding the double channel section, the entire canal was deepened and widened to handle the largest vessels, in fact one of the several sister ships that are the largest container carriers in the world is right behind us. She can carry 22,000 containers, but today is only carrying 18,000.

As we enter the canal, the western side has a 10 foot high wall with guard towers every 1000 feet or so. Each tower is manned. As near as I can tell this wall continues most of the length of the canal. Periodically there are military posts, and at one point we pass what appears to be a military airfield with dozens of large bunkers. There is a control tower and soldiers visible, but I don't see any planes. The digging of the canal has left piles of sand on both sides which often obstructs any view, even from the upper decks. The banks are often in excess of 100 feet high, all sand.

There are several ferry locations for vehicles to cross the canal. And several vehicle tunnels are being constructed under the canal, but I don't think any are in operation yet. There was a tunnel completed a number of years ago, but it began to leak soon after completion and isn't in use.

With the help of Japan a tall highway bridge was built across the canal. As we approached and passed beneath we could see a couple of individuals on the bridge, but not a single car or truck. Previous land development has primarily been on the African side. As part of the overall expansion a new city with hundreds of multistory residential buildings has been built on the Asian side, but none of them are complete, and none occupied. In fact the new city doesn't even have a name yet. Current construction activity appears to be minimal. (That means there might be some, but I couldn't see any.)

There used to be a rail line that crossed the canal, but that too has been abandoned along with the longest swing bridge in the world. There is an active rail line running beside the canal on the west side.

One aspect of the canal that hadn't occurred to me is that since this is just an open canal with no locks, marine life is free to travel between the Red sea and the Mediterranean. This morning we were treated with the passing of several dolphins headed to the Red Sea.

There is an anchorage area near the center of the crossing that is large enough for a handful of ships. Today there are two ships anchored. About a month ago a ship carrying iron ore lost steering control and was moved here by the canal tugs after running aground. A special recovery ship was brought in to unload and hold the ore while repairs are being made. Once the ore carrier is sea worthy again the ore will be reloaded to continue its journey.

This type of occurrence is one reason that every ship is accompanied by a canal tug. On our transit the pilots on board and the tug crew is changed several times. We also hoisted a small vessel onto the bow that was occupied by several canal workers. Exactly what their function is has not been made clear to me.

The total transit takes about 9 hours, and we then head to Haifa, Israel. Before anyone can disembark the ship, each passenger and crew member has to meet with Israel officials. A process that for me is scheduled for 7:15. Another alarm clock day.