RELIVE: Egypt's new Suez Canal officially welcomes ships

Reem Gehad , Marina Barsoum , Randa Ali , Deya Abaza , Waad Ahmed , Salma Shukrallah , Hana Afifi , Thursday 6 Aug 2015

The project to extend the canal was completed in a year, and is being hailed by the Egyptian government as 'Egypt's gift to the world'

Cargo ships
Snapshot from State TV shows two cargo ships cross the new Suez Canal celebrations in Ismailia, Egypt, August 6, 2015

17:45 That concludes our live blog for today.

17:40 According to El-Sisi during his speech, the Suez Canal zone project has been ratified.

Work will soon start on the project after a decree was passed, El-Sisi said in his speech. The project aims to create an industrial and logistical hub in the vicinity of the Suez Canal.

17:30 Lots of celebrations are expected tonight. A performance by renowned Egyptian pianist Omar Khairat and his orchestra is expected later this evening as part of the celebrations in Ismailia.

Cairo Opera House musicians, accompanied by international soloists, will also stage the Triumphal March from Giuseppe Verdi's Opera Aida. The opera, the story of which is set in ancient Egypt, first premiered in Cairo in 1871.

17:15 Following his speech, El-Sisi and his guests board the presidential yacht to navigate the new waterway.

17:00 Airshows and firework displays mark the end of El-Sisi's speech and the closing of the inauguration.

16:50 More quotes from El-Sisi's speech:

“Evil was trying to harm Egypt and the Egyptians, and to halt its development,” said El-Sisi.

The circumstances in which the new Suez Canal project was carried out were not normal, said the president, adding that Egypt was fighting terrorism.

“We will continue to fight terrorism, and we will win. There is no doubt,” he asserted.

Adding that the new Suez Canal project cannot be seen simply as an engineering achievement, he said that ”Egyptians needed to feel, in a year’s time, that they have gained more confidence and security.”

“As shown by the people’s happiness today, they needed to show themselves and the world that they can [accomplish such a project],” he said.

“We have to be one bloc, to face the challenge” he said, gesturing to the grand imam of Al-Azhar and the Coptic Orthodox pope, who are sitting side-by-side in the audience.

El-Sisi thanked “the martyrs who have sacrificed themselves for Egypt and for its, police and innocent civilians” and thanked all those who participated in the new Suez Canal project including the engineering division of the armed forces, the armed forces, and the Suez Canal Authority.

Towards the end of the speech, the first commercial ship to cross the new canal passes by, sounding its horn.

16:40 El-Sisi says he appreciates the “great effort” exerted over the past year to construct the new Suez Canal, describing it as “a gift to Egypt and the world for the sake of humanity, development, construction and reconstruction.”

“In the past year or two, Egypt has not only provided this project; history will record that Egypt stood in the face of the most dangerous and terroristic ideology,” El-Sisi said.

“It was the Egyptians who stood up and faced these ideas, by presenting the real forgiveness of Islam and Muslims."

16:35 President El-Sisi takes to the podium, signs the declaration, and begins his speech.

16:30 Mohab Mamish, the head of the Suez Canal Authority, is giving the opening remarks.

16:20 A documentary tracing the process of digging the new canal is being played on a screen at the front of the pavilion as audiences await the signing of the declaration of the start of operations of the new Suez Canal.

16:15 Among the Egyptian guests are the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed El-Tayyeb, and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II.

Also in attendance is El-Sisi's wife, Entissar Amer El-Sisi, and the wife of the late Egyptian president Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat, Jehan El-Sadat.

16:10 President El-Sisi greets the ceremony's guest of honour, France's President Francois Hollande at the pavilion where the ceremony is to be held. The two leaders stand up as the Egyptian national anthem is played.

Various world dignitaries are seated behind El-Sisi and Hollande.

Mohab Mamish, the head of the Suez Canal Authority, is expected to give an opening address, after which El-Sisi will speak.

15:45 The list of international figures expected to attend today’s inauguration is a long one.

They include: France's President Francois Hollande; UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon along with the British ambassador to Egypt, John Casson; Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti; Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev; Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras; a delegation from the US Congress; and the American ambassador to Egypt, Stephen Beecroft.

From the Arab world: King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa of Bahrain; Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah of Kuwait; Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan; Dubai's ruler, Emirati Prime Minister and Vice President, Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum; Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and Minister of Defence Mohamed Bin Salman Al-Saud.

Arab guests also include Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi; King Abdullah of Jordan; Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas; Speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri; Lebanese Prime Minister Tamam Sallam; Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir; and Qatar’s Minister of Transportation Jassim Saif Al-Sulaiti.

In attendance from Africa are Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn; Angola’s President José Eduardo dos Santos; Lesotho’s Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing; Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou; Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz; the Democratic Republic of Congo's President Joseph Kabila; Tanzania's Vice President Mohamed Gharib Bilal; and deputy chairman of the African Union’s Commission, Erastus Mwencha.

Also in attendance are Swiss Vice President Johann Schneider-Ammann, China’s Minister of Culture, Luo Shugang, and the speaker of North Korea's parliament, Kim Yong Nam.

15:30 El-Sisi, who disembarked the El-Mahrousa yacht a little while ago and has subsequently changed from his military uniform into civilian clothes, is now beginning to receive various international dignitaries at the main ceremony site.

15:10 The expansion of the canal is expected to boost income from the Suez Canal, a main source of foreign currency for Egypt, from $5.3 billion in 2014 to $13.2 billion in 2023, according to Egyptian government projections.

Economists, however, have said that world trade is not likely to grow fast enough in coming years to have such an impact on revenues.

In order for Egypt to reach its revenue target from the new canal, global trade volume would need to rise by nine percent a year, which is “unlikely,” says William Jackson, senior emerging markets economist at London-based Capital Economics.

Before the expansion, the artificial waterway was already the fastest shipping route between Europe and Asia, with eight percent of world traffic flowing through it, according to the Suez Canal Authority.

Nonetheless, the expansion “was a necessity to maintain the attractiveness of the Suez Canal,” Michael Storgaard, a spokesman for Maersk Line, the world’s biggest container shipping company, told Bloomberg.

An official statement by Maersk welcoming the new waterway is quoted below.

But how much traffic flows through the new canal depends on the toll fees charged for passage, which the canal authority reserves the right to increase.

“The question about the Suez Canal is really related to its charges…it’s simply a question of how much they charge. If they overcharge, people won’t use it,” Tony Foster, CEO of Marine Capital, told Bloomberg on Thursday.

15:00 International shipping company Maersk Group welcomes the expansion of the canal, according to an emailed statement today.

“The development in the number of transits through the canal underscores the need of having a canal that guarantees quick passage both ways and helps relieve bottlenecks, accommodating growth in trade and vessel sizes – an effort we welcome from all our partners and suppliers,” said Maersk Group representative and CEO of Maersk Drilling Claus V. Hemmingsen.

Hemmingsen will attend the official opening of the Suez Canal today along with COO of Maersk Line, Søren Toft.

The company has been using the international waterway for more than 90 years.

Maersk Line announced in 2013 that it would stop using smaller ships in the Panama Canal to transport goods from Asia to the east coast of the US and would instead use bigger ships via the Suez Canal, to achieve higher profitability.

14:50 Police in El-Mahalla, located in the Nile Delta governorate of Gharbiya, are distributing sweets to locals in celebration, Al-Ahram’s Arabic website reported.

14:45 The convoy has arrived at the site of the ceremony and El-Sisi disembarks, welcomed by an army band. 

14:40 Captain Marwa El-Selehdar is the country’s youngest shipmaster, and the first woman to hold the title shipmaster. She is aboard naval vessel AIDA IV, on this occasion acting as a second naval officer.

14:35 The Rafale and F16 jets put on an airshow, drawing the Egyptian flag in the sky with plumes of coloured smoke.

14:30 The Egyptian navy's new FREMM frigate, which is named Tahya Misr (“Long Live Egypt”), is accompanying El-Mahrousa on its journey to the ceremony site.

The jets flying overhead include Rafale jet fighters from France and F16s from the US.

All are relatively recent arrivals. Egypt received the FREMM frigate from France last week, and three Rafale planes earlier in July, the first batch of 24 purchased by Egypt. The total value of the arms deal signed earlier this year is over 5 billion euros.

Eight new F16 figher jets also arrived from the US last week.

Egyptian air force planes
Egyptian air force planes parade in front of a statue representing a man digging during the inauguration ceremony of the new section of the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015 (AP)

14:25 According to Egyptian state television, the guests accompanying El-Sisi aboard El-Mahrousa yacht represent different parts of society, including Bedouins and Nubians.

National flags can be seen on the banks of the canal as the ship passes, and young women wearing traditional folkloric costume are performing Egyptian dances, while waving to the passing president.

14:20 Egypt’s health minister issued a statement this afternoon about the death toll during the year-long project to dig the canal extension.

Ten people died on site, including one doctor, according to minister Adel Adawy.

He didn’t elaborate on the causes of death, but did add that the main causes of injury on-site were scorpion stings, sun stroke, burns, factures, cuts and chest infections.

The minister also said that hospitals in Ismailia were put on alert and were well equipped. They were provided with a budget of LE24 million to deal with patients connected to the project. Additional services such as mobile clinics, ambulances, mobile pharmacies and mobile operation units were also provided.

14:15 Egyptian television is showing the progress of El-Sisi's trip on board El-Mahrousa, the presidential yacht, along the new canal. It is surrounded by a convoy of navy and canal authority ships. Fighter jets from Egypt's airforce are flying overheard.

El-Sisi is travelling to the site of the inauguration ceremony, where he is expected to give a speech.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stands on a boat on the Suez Canal as he attends the celebration of an extension of the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, in this August 6, 2015 (Photo: Handout photo from the Egyptian Presidency)

13:55 The ceremony today will be taking place in Ismailia, one of three famous cities located on the Suez Canal.

Ismailia, popularly known as the “city of beauty and enchantment” is located around halfway up the canal, with Port Said on the northern end, on the Mediterranean coast, and Suez at the southern terminus of the canal, on the Red Sea.

It’s built on the west bank of Lake Timsah, and its buildings are characterised by 19th century, European-style buildings, many of which date to the time of the Khedive.

Temperatures in the city today are set to reach 39 degrees Celsius.

Ismailia started its celebrations earlier this morning. Cyclists to the streets in a convoy as patriotic songs were blasted by loudspeakers set up by cafe owners and cars, Al-Ahram Arabic reported.

13:50 Cairo airport authorities have allocated seven helicopters to transfer top profile guests from the airport to the opening ceremony in Ismailia, around 110km away.

The seven helicopters are lined up on a runway at Cairo airport awaiting the arrival of the heads of states, sources told Aswat Masriya.

13:45 Speaking a little while ago, Luxor’s governor, Mohamed Badr, told Al-Ahram Arabic news website that the mosques in Luxor would broadcast the azan (the Islamic call to prayer) at 1:30, and at the same time church bells would ring and Nile boats would blow their horns in a show of celebration for the new canal. He also said 300 helium balloons would be released over Luxor's skyline.

13:40 President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has arrived at the waterfront in Ismailia and boarded the presidential yacht, El-Mahrousa, which will be the first vessel to cross the new extension.

El-Sisi, who was head of the armed forces before he stepped down and stood for election, is wearing a military uniform.

Egypt's armed forces were in charge of carrying out the project to create the new Suez Canal.

The head of the Suez Canal Authority, Mohab Mamish, was part of the delegation.

13:30 Earlier today, dozens of people gathered in Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square to celebrate the inauguration of the new canal, waving Egyptian flags. Egypt has been seeing unusually hot weather in recent days, and those celebrating in the streets in Cairo today are braving temperatures of 37 degrees Celsius.

People hold up flags during celebrations in Tahrir on Thursday. (Photo: Ahram)

13:20 The Egyptian government has made Thursday a public holiday and has made trains, public parks and museums and other forms of public transport free for the day, to encourage Egyptians to celebrate.

13:15 Good afternoon, and welcome to Ahram Online’s live blog covering the inauguration of the new Suez Canal, the 35-kilometre extension to the existing canal which the Egyptian government has hailed as a major engineering achievement and a boon to the country’s economy.

President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi will open the new waterway at a lavish ceremony this afternoon on the waterfront in Ismailia city, which is located on the Suez Canal.

A number of world leaders, including dignitaries from the Arab world, from Africa, and from Western countries, are expected to attend the $30-million celebration. Among them, French President Francois Hollande has been designated as the event's guest of honour. 

The inauguration ceremony is expected to be quite elaborate. The 150-year-old presidential yacht, El-Mahrousa, which was the first ship to pass through the original Suez Canal in 1869, will transport El-Sisi and a number of his guests along the waterway.

The Egyptian authorities say the new shipping lane will attract more international shipping traffic by decreasing waiting times. The development's official slogan is "Egypt's gift to the world."

Existing bypasses were also deepened to allow larger ships to pass through the channel, bringing the total length of the project -- which was completed in a year -- to 72 kilometres.

The government says it will raise annual revenues from the canal from $5.3 billion to $13.2 billion by 2023, although some analysts are sceptical.

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