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Dredging Up The Past: The Suez Canal, Part 1

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Welcome back to U.S. Aqua Services look at historic dredging projects. We had a lot of fun “Dredging Up the Past” in our look at the Panama Canal. This week, we’d like to take a look at one of the most famous dredging projects of all time: the Suez Canal. It’s a project that started nearly 160 years ago, and even today is the subject of new dredging projects and global fascination. Join us in part 1 as we cover the beginning of this incredible project. If you’re looking for a dredge rental company to take on your own Suez Canal, contact U.S. Aqua Services today.

The Canal’s Origins

Egypt has been home to many waterway projects over the course of history. The Ancient Egyptian pharaohs and rulers often carried out projects that would adjust the desert nation’s waterways to better supply their crops with water, or to allow for better trade routes to exist. Indeed, as early as 1850 B.C.E., there were projects akin to the modern-day Suez canal that better connected the Nile River to the Mediterranean sea.

Leaping ahead dozens of centuries, Egypt, and its position between the Red and Mediterranean seas became the fascination of Napoleon Bonaparte. Having conquered Egypt in 1798, Napoleon tasked a team of engineers and scouts to see if it was possible to build a canal between the two seas. This was viewed by the French emperor as a way to improve the shipping routes of the fledgling empire and make the valuable markets of South Asia more accessible to French traders. This would serve as an economic boon for France, and deal a devastating blow to the British economy, who relied heavily on international trade.

But Napoleon’s engineers reported back that the two bodies of water were at different elevations, and that building a canal could cause the Red Sea to flood the Nile Delta. The idea was abandoned and remained untouched for nearly 60 years.

Renewed Interest In The Canal

What Napoleon and his engineers did not realize in their mid-18th-century expedition was that their math was very, very wrong. The two seas were not separated by 30 feet of elevation like they had suspected. In 1847, France dispatched a team of French researchers to Egypt to conduct a new survey to discuss the feasibility of a canal. This new round of research concluded that there was no serious difference in elevation between the Mediterranean and Red Seas.

With this new information in hand, interest in constructing a canal was renewed, and many Europeans began wondering who would be the first to undertake the project. After all, it was considered by many to be the shortest link between the East and West due to its unique geographic location. The first nation to open a route between the two would undoubtedly have access to the material riches of South Asia, with the factories and ideas of Europe. France expressed interest in the canal project and began discussions with Muhammad Ali Pasha, the rule of Egypt, to strike a deal that would allow France to build the canal.

But Muhammad Ali was less than impressed by the idea, and the British also loudly protested the canal’s construction, realizing that the French were trying to establish themselves as the regional economic power with this canal. However, this did not dissuade the French diplomat and engineer, Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps. De Lesseps had been studying the idea of a canal for nearly 2 years by the time he enlisted the help of the Egyptian viceroy in starting the project in 1854. Together, the politicians drafted an agreement that would lead to the construction of a canal that ran 100 miles across the Isthmus of Suez.

Lessons Of The Past, Technology Of The Future

U.S. Aqua Services will continue the history of the Suez Canal in Part 2 of our “Dredging Up The Past Series.” Until then, be sure to visit our services page, to see how our dredging equipment rental company help you carry out your next project. Our dredge rental services use only the most advanced dredging technologies, all with an emphasis and focus on environmental responsibility. Humanity has looked for ways to dredge waterways to improve commerce and living for people everywhere. U.S. Aqua Services is proud to continue this long tradition with our dredging equipment rental services.