The first cargo ships passed through Egypt's New Suez Canal last weekend in a test-run before it opens next month, state media reported, eleven months after the army began constructing the $8 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 and give a boost to Egypt's economy, will be formally inaugurated on August 6.
President 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 ship heading to Egypt's Port Said from Saudi Arabia, another was a Danish ship sailing to the United States from Singapore, and 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.
Mohab Mameesh, the chairman of the Suez Canal Authority who led the project, told state television from aboard the first ship that the test-run had been a success.
This is the first trial crossing but it will be followed by more trials, he said. We are 99.2 percent done with everything. We should be completely done in two or three days.
The existing canal earns Egypt around $5 billion per year. The new canal, which will allow two-way traffic of larger ships, is supposed to increase revenues by 2023 to $15 billion.
It should also reduce navigation time for ships to 11 hours from about 22 hours, Mameesh said last month, making it the fastest such waterway in the world.
The government also plans to build an international industrial and logistics hub nearby that it hopes will eventually make up about a third of the Egyptian economy.