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Around The Fleet

The Suez Canal

Five Things You Should Know

The sun hasn't yet peaked over the horizon, but ships are already busy with life readying to transit one of the engineering marvels of the sea: The Suez Canal.

The Suez Canal is a 120-mile-long artificial waterway in Egypt that allows ships to transit from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean via the Mediterranean Sea and Red Sea without having to sail around Africa. Its importance has been emphasized in history classes, countries have fought for control of it and some of you reading this may have sailed through it, but how much do you really know about it? Here are a few things you should know about the Suez Canal.

1. The Suez Canal wasn't the first canal in the region

The Suez Canal is the first one to connect the Mediterranean and Red Sea but it isn't the first canal to be constructed in the region. Historians believe that Egyptian Pharaoh, Senusret III, built the first canal around 1874 B.C., but it didn't link to the Red Sea. It was referred to as the "Canal of the Pharaohs" and connected the Mediterranean Sea to the Nile River.

2. The Statue of Liberty was originally intended for the Suez Canal

French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi wanted to construct a 90-foot-tall statue of a woman clothed in Egyptian robes holding a massive torch which would serve as a lighthouse to guide ships into the Mediterranean side of the canal. Unfortunately for Bartholdi, he wasn't granted permission by the Egyptian government and the project never materialized. Bartholdi never completely gave up the idea and in 1886 he unveiled a statue in New York Harbor called "Liberty Enlightening the World" which is better known today as the Statue of Liberty.

3. In 2015 it completed an $8.5 billion overhaul

Egypt's Suez Canal Authority deemed that the canal was too narrow and shallow to accommodate two-way traffic from modern tanker ships. In 2014 they announced a plan to deepen the canal and create a new 22-mile lane branching off the main channel at the cost of $8.5 billion. The project was completed in 2015 and the Suez Canal Authority expects to see 97 ships transit through every day.

4. The Suez Canal's creator attempted to build the Panama Canal

Inspired by the successful completion of the Suez Canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps turned his attention towards creating the Panama Canal in Central America. Work began in 1881 but the project ended in disaster. By 1889, thousands of laborers died and the project burned through nearly $260 million before the company went bankrupt. It would take another 25 years before the project was picked up by the United States and then completed after a decade of work.

5. Napoleon Bonaparte considered building it

French commander Napoleon Bonaparte sent a team of surveyors to the region after conquering Egypt in 1798. After four separate excursions to the region, Bonaparte's survey teams warned that the Red Sea was 30 feet higher than the Mediterranean and pursuing the project would result in flooding throughout the Nile Delta. This warning was enough to scare Napoleon away from the project and plans stalled until 1847. Later it was revealed that the initial surveyors had faulty calculations and there was no noticeable difference in altitude between the Mediterranean and Red Sea. Construction on the Suez Canal would begin in 1859 and after a decade of effort it would officially open under French control on November 17, 1869.

From cargo ship to tanker ships and cruise ships to warships, the Suez Canal sees more than 200 vessels transit her waterways a week. Check out this time-lapse of USS Bataan (LHD 5) transiting the canal in April.