Explainer: Why is the Suez Canal so important?

The Suez Canal is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

About 12% of world trade by volume passes through the man-made channel connecting Europe and Asia.

So, a traffic jam like the one caused by the 224,000-tonne Ever Given container ship is rather a big problem

and could have a major impact on the global flow of oil and gas.

Courtesy: Refinitiv Eikon


Nearly 19,000 ships passed through the canal during 2020.

That's on average of 51.5 ships per day.

Source: Suez Canal Authority

All that traffic adds up to about 1.17 billion tonnes - all squeezing through the man-made channel …

Giant tankers and container ships carry everything from crude oil and refined products to finished goods like electronics and toys.

The Suez Canal is also a major source of hard currency for Egypt.

The country raked in $5.61 billion in tolls in 2020 - despite global trade disruption elsewhere.


The 120 mile-long canal separates the African continent from Asia.

It also provides the shortest sea link between Asia and Europe and the lands lying around the Indian and western Pacific oceans.

The first waterway was dug over 3,500 years ago but significant enhancements came in the 19th century to link the Mediterranean with the Red sea via the river Nile.


In 1956, Egypt nationalized the canal, prompting shareholders Britain and France, along with Israel, to invade.

The “Suez Crisis” only ended after Egypt sank 40 ships in the channel

and the U.S., Soviet Union and UN intervened, forcing Britain, France and Israel to withdraw.

The state-owned Suez Canal Authority (SCA) was established in July 1956 and still runs the waterway.

In June 1967, Egypt and some other Arab states fought Israel in what became known as the Six-Day War.

The canal was very badly damaged in fighting and remained closed until after the 1973 Yom Kippur war.

Egypt regained full control of the canal and it reopened in June 1975.