For seven years the slowly rusting, barnacle covered hulks of fourteen merchant ships have been trapped in the Bitter Lakes section off the battle-torn Suez Canal.
For seven years the slowly rusting, barnacle covered hulks of fourteen merchant ships have been trapped in the Bitter Lakes section off the battle-torn Suez Canal. Recent mine-clearing operations by the United States and British Royal Navies are bringing closer the day when these victims of the struggles between Egypt and Israel will be freed.
The task of clearing seven years of war bric-a-brac - shells, mines, explosive - began recently. The Egyptians are hopeful that the major months. But then, clearing the half submerged ships and the others which float aimlessly at their moorings, will take a further two or more months. There's another clearance problem - over the years of discus the Canal and its channels through the Bitter Lakes, have silted up and dredging the 99 miles (160 kms) of waterway between Port Said and the Red Sea, will take another three months.
Theoretically, the first ships out of the canal will be those in the Bitter Lakes. There are a large number of small wrecks along the length of the Canal.
Apart from Lloyd's, who will recoup about $14 million sterling ($ 34 million US) on the hulks and their cargoes, the shipping world is not that excited about the recovery of the vessels.
What effect the opening of the Canal will have on the shipping market will depend on two factors. The first is the physical size of the ships that will be able to pass through safely; the second is the dues the Egyptians will levy.
The age of the giant tanker is with us. Their dimensions entirely preclude the use of the Canal. There are plans to increase the dimensions of the Canal, but tankers keep getting bigger all the time. That there will be traffic along the Canal is indesputable. Only the future will reveal the financial viability of the once busy waterway short cut.