Maritime transport is one of the pillars of Transped’s business. For the maritime shipment of goods, navigable channels are essential infrastructure for international trade. Let’s take a look at the main canals throughout the world and their importance to maritime transport.

The origins

 The Grand Canal of China, also known as the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, is one of the first canals built in the world. Its origin dates back to the year 605 when the reigning emperor ordered its construction. It is the longest canal in the world (1,776 km) and connects the Yellow River with the Yangtze River as well as the cities of Beijing and Hangzhou. In 2014, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Currently, the Grand Canal of China has seven sub-canals, including the Li and Jiangnan canals, which move more than 100 million tons of cargo per year.

Another historic shipping canal is situated in the North West of England. Opened in 1761, the Bridgewater Canal connects the cities of Manchester, Runcorn and Leigh and is considered England’s first modern canal because it is a wholly artificial waterway that does not rely on natural rivers for navigation. However, the development of the Liverpool-Manchester railway downplayed this engineering masterpiece and today it is only used by leisure boats.

Connecting Oceans: Panama and The Suez

Since the 18th century, many activities have transformed the world and the global exchange of goods has given rise to authentic maritime highways that pass through strategic natural geographic locations such as the Strait of Hormuz, the Strait of Malacca and the Bosphorus. However, there was still one big hurdle to overcome. How to transport merchandise faster from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean and from Europe to the West Coast of the Americas? The solution was discovered with the construction of the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal which then changed global logistics forever.

The Suez Canal has been in operation since 1869 and connects the North Atlantic and the North Indian Ocean through the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. With its inauguration, trips were shortened, and their costs were reduced. It is estimated that currently, 10% of the world’s global trade circulates daily through the canal´s 193 kilometers.

The importance of the Suez Canal for global logistics was brought into the spotlight by an incident caused by the megaship “Ever Given” which obstructed the canal for six days, thus causing severe disruptions to global trade. Since the incident, the Suez Canal Authority (ACS) has been working to widen and deepen the canal to prevent similar disasters. The renovation works will end in mid-2023.

The Panama Canal is perhaps the most iconic in the world. Inaugurated in 1914, this engineering feat consists of locks that raise or lower ships, which acts like a massive elevator connecting Gatun Lake, an artificial lake that is located between both entrances of the canal where ships transit from the Caribbean to the Pacific or vice versa. In 2021, approximately 287 million tons of goods were transported.

 Kiel Canal

 A great unknown is the Kiel Canal in Germany, and it is one of the busiest artificial seaways in the world. It was built between 1887 and 1895 and was later enlarged. Located north of the city of Hamburg, it connects the Baltic Sea with the Nordic Sea. In 2020, 25 ships passed through its waters and more than 73 million tons of merchandise were shipped. The canal is open to all types of vessels with some exceptions such as aircraft carriers or large oil tankers.