Muddy the waters: Egyptian authorities struggle with Suez canal blockage

As a massive container ship ran aground and got stuck in one of the world’s most vital routes, Egypt’s initial response was characteristic silence, even as reports of the problem began to emerge publicly over 12 時間後.

For Egypt, the Suez canal is more than a trade route, it is a source of national pride and a vital source of foreign currency. But the fervour that surrounds the waterway combined with iron-fisted information control means that few observers expect transparency about the circumstances of the grounding or the timetable for the ship’s rescue from the Egyptian authorities, which some estimate could take days or even weeks.

Suez canal definitely has a special place in Egypt’s national history, it’s a strategic waterway that has historically elevated Egypt’s importance,” said Timothy E Kaldas of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

Construction began on the 120-mile (193km) canal in 1859, before Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised it in 1956, wrenching control from a British-French company. “This was a watershed in terms of Egypt establishing its independence. It helped establish Nasser as a leader,” said Kaldas.

The Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, tapped the same vein of national pride after seizing power in a military coup in 2013, declaring a year later that engineering works to widen and deepen a 37km stretch of the canal be completed within one year rather than three. The $8.2bn project was funded by state-issued bonds, eagerly bought by a public told the expanded waterway would be “an artery of prosperity”. The Egyptian authorities touted the canal’s relaunch in 2015 as “a miracle and Egypt’s gift to the world”.

The Ever Given, しかしながら, remains stuck in the single-lane, older section of the canal. Egyptian officials were reluctant to give anything but an optimistic picture of efforts to refloat the ship, 含む a video released by the SCA set to dramatic music, intended to portray authorities as in control of the crisis. Initial statements from Admiral Osama Rabie, head of the SCA, that the problem would be solved within days, and other reports that the ship had been partially refloated or moved, proved untrue.

Capt Ranjan Chowdhury, who sailed the Suez canal frequently during his 35-year maritime career, said the canal pilots, mandated by the SCA to steer transiting ships and aid tricky navigation on the waterway, contributed to problems.

“The canal pilots play music inside the bridge, and there’s a lack of AIS-supported backup," 彼は言った, in reference to the tracking system used on ships. “They connect to it with a computer, but the canal pilots are very over-confident when it comes to navigating by sight. Every time they’re eating food, smoking, talking a lot and asking for bribes which keeps them very busy. Navigation is an art, and if you lose concentration for a second while navigating a narrow channel, it should be investigated.”

“We call the Suez canal Marlboro country," 彼が追加した. “If we provide them with a big carton of Marlboro cigarettes they’re happy. Not every captain has done their homework before transiting through the Suez canal.”

Chowdhury was equally sceptical about efforts to examine the incident. “The investigation will not be transparent, and it will take a long time due to bureaucracy," 彼は言った. "さらに重要なことには, the Suez Canal Authority doesn’t take responsibility, the ship’s captain is the primary individual responsible, which is a loophole compared to the Panama canal.”

Kaldas said that transparency would help soothe tensions around the incident, for Egypt and its international partners. “It’s essential that the Egyptian government be transparent going forward over this crisis to retain its credibility," 彼は言った. “This current communication strategy is not serving the Egyptian government’s interests.”