According to commercial shipping experts, the Suez Canal is ready for reopening-and has been since at least mid-January.
According to commercial shipping experts, the Suez Canal is ready for reopening-and has been since at least mid-January. But frustration continues to mount among officials of companies with ships still trapped as Egypt repeatedly delays the official reopening to commercial traffic.
President Anwar Sadat and Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmy have said the canal will remain closed until Israel pulls back its forces beyond artillery range "to safeguard navigation". And Mashhour Ahmed Mashhour, Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, has reaffirmed that, while the canal technically is ready for reopening, the Government will time the move to underscore its political aims.
Meantime, 15 commercial vessels remain trapped in the Great Bitter Lakes, and for their owners, masters and skeletal crews, each new delay heightens concern over the safety of the ships and the increasing difficulty of getting them out.
Last 16 December, a letter circulated by Samir Fahmy, Chairman of the Canal Shipping Agencies Company, which handless all shipping matters for the Canal Authority, Informed the ships' owners that all vessels trapped in the lakes would "be able to transit out either to Port Said or Suez about mid-January". Accordingly, some of the companies concerned sent in full crews so their ships could leave as soon as possible; but when the scheduled reopening was further delayed -- with no now date being set -- most of these craws were withdrawn.
Adding to the foreign companies' frustration is the fact that Egyptian shipping -- both military and non-military -- has been observed passing through the canal unobstructed in both directions.
A Canal Authority spokesman has said that British and French minesweepers -- which cleared the canal of mines and other explosives left there since it was closed after the 1967 war -- will return later this month or in April for "a final checkout". When the canal finally has been declared safe, it will remain for political events to determine the date for resumption of normal snipping, the same spokesman said.