Egypt has announced plans to build a new Suez Canal alongside the existing 145-year-old waterway in a bid to boost its economy.
The 72km corridor will expand the fastest shipping route between Europe and Asia and enable ships to pass each other as well as cut down on waiting times for vessels from around 11 hours to three.
It is part of several mega projects designed to breathe new life into the nation, which include developing the canal ports and industrial zones.
In a ceremony broadcast on state television from the canal city of Ismailia Egypt’s president Abdel-Fatteh el-Sisi officially launched the military-led scheme, set to cost $4bn.
He said that digging of the new canal will allow ships to travel in both directions for just under half of the canal’s 160km length. And although the initial time frame for completion was five years, el-Sisi estimated it could be finished much earlier.
Among the bidders for the Suez project, according to local Egyptian media, was a group including state-run Arab Contractors and consultancy firm James Cubitt and Partners. Another included McKinsey & Co management consulting firm. However, overall control will come from the country’s military.
The current Suez Canal brings in around $5bn of revenues per year, a vital source of hard currency for Egypt which has suffered a slump in tourism and foreign investment since its 2011 uprising.
According to reports from the Suez Canal Authority the new canal will boost annual revenues to $13.5billion by 2023.