ISMAILIA (Egypt) • The first cargo ships passed through Egypt's New Suez Canal on Saturday in a test-run before it opens next month, state media reported, 11 months after the army began constructing the US$8 billion (S$10.9 billion) canal alongside the existing 145-year-old Suez Canal.
The new waterway, which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hopes will help expand trade along the fastest shipping route between Europe and Asia, will be officially opened on Aug 6.
Mr Sisi wants the canal to become a symbol of national pride and to help combat Egypt's double-digit unemployment. The old Suez Canal is already a vital source of hard currency for Egypt, which has seen tourism and foreign investment drain away in the years of turmoil since a 2011 uprising.
Three container ships crossed the new waterway, state news agency Mena reported. One was an American vessel heading to Egypt's Port Said from Saudi Arabia, another was a Danish ship sailing to the United States from Singapore, and the third, a Bahraini ship going to Italy from Saudi Arabia.
The exercise took place amid tight security. An insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders on the Suez Canal, has killed hundreds of soldiers and police since 2013. State television said there were helicopters circling above and showed naval vessels escorting the ships.
Mr Mohab Mameesh, chairman of the Suez Canal Authority overseeing the project, said that the test-run was a success and that more would follow.
At a later news conference, he said construction of another canal near the East Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea would begin as soon as the New Suez Canal had been inaugurated.
A senior Suez Canal Authority source told Reuters the canal is expected to cost about US$60 million and will be 9.5km long, 18.5m deep and 250m wide.
The existing canal earns Egypt around US$5 billion a year.
The New Suez Canal, which will allow two-way traffic of larger ships, is expected to increase revenues to US$15 billion by 2023.
It should also reduce navigation time to 11 hours from about 22 hours, making it the fastest such waterway in the world.