Maritime transport is one of the pillars of Transped’s business. For the maritime shipment of goods, the navigable channels are part of an essential infrastructure for international trade. We go through the main canals of the world and their importance for maritime transport.
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. The longest canal in the world (1,776 km) connects the Yellow River and the Yangtze River and the cities of Beijing and Hangzhou. Since 2014 it has been part of the 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 of the historic shipping canals is 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 pleasure boats.
Connecting Oceans: Panama and Suez
Since the 18th century, many things have changed in the world and the global exchange of goods has given rise to authentic maritime highways that pass through strategic natural points such as the Strait of Hormuz, the Strait of Malacca or the Bosphorus. But there was still one big hurdle to be overcome. How to transport merchandise faster from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean and from Europe to the western coast of the American continent? The solution was found in the construction of the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal that have 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 the trips were shortened and their costs were reduced. It is estimated that currently about 10% of the world’s global trade circulates daily through the 193 kilometers of the canal.
The importance of the Suez Canal for global logistics was shown by the accident suffered by the megaship “Ever Given” that blocked the canal for six days and caused serious consequences for the world economy. 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 work of engineering has locks that raise or lower the boats as if they were elevators to Gatun Lake, an artificial lake that is located between both entrances of the canal and through which boats transit from the Caribbean to the Pacific and vice versa. In 2021, approximately 287 million tons of goods were transported.
A great unknown is the Kiel Canal in Germany and one of the busiest artificial seaways in the world. It was built between 1887 and 1895 and 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 moved. The canal is open to all types of vessels with some restrictions such as aircraft carriers or large oil tankers.