Egypt's Suez Canal recently celebrated the 56th anniversary of its nationalisation with a 3.6% revenue increase for fiscal year 2011-2012.
Ownership of the canal passed from France to Egypt during the reign of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who nationalised the route on July 26th, 1956.
Just one day before the anniversary, Canal Authority Chairman Gen. Ahmed Ali Fadel announced that canal revenues topped $5.2 billion, while gross tonnage posted a 4.7% increase and total quantities of goods a 9.1% increase over the same period.
The proceeds of the first half of this year reached $2.5 billion, collected from 8,573 vessels that passed through the canal, Fadel said.
Professor of Political Economy at Cairo University, Dr. Nasser al-Assiouty, told Al-Shorfa that the global shipping lane is a "vital lifeline for the Egyptian economy" and has endured recent events remarkably well.
"[Canal] revenue remained relatively stable under the political and economic crises that hit the region and the world, holding steady in the post-January 25 revolution period and the blows the Egyptian economy sustained during that time," he said.
He said the canal "was not affected by political pressure and remained compliant with international conventions and agreements".
Al-Assiouty said that given the changing global political and economic map, "the opportunity is there for future Egyptian governments to take advantage of the situation and develop the canal to keep pace with modern times and the latest technology."
He proposed opening the door for global partnerships to develop the canal, as well as attract business investments, develop commercial areas and create international free trade zones.
Waterway specialist Engineering Professor at Ain Shams University, Rifaat al-Arab, said, "The Suez Canal has the potential to become the primary source of national income for Egypt if some essential changes are made".
He said the canal cannot currently accommodate giant vessels, telling Al-Shorfa that "half the world's oil tankers and container ships cannot cross it fully loaded because its maximum depth is only 24 metres, while the drafts of newer shipping vessels are twice that when fully loaded."
"Canal revenue would increase tenfold if its draft is deepened to at least 30 metres and the canal expanded on one side through the use of so-called tributaries to accommodate another lane in order to enable two-way traffic," al-Arab added.
Recent studies by Egyptian development engineers confirm that greater expansion of the canal's infrastructure and logistical support could potentially increase revenue to more than $50 billion annually, said Ali Arafa, a consultant with the Ministry of Transport and Communications' Department of Strategic Studies.
"The canal has seen significant development over the years, which naturally increased its revenue," Arafa said, adding that 14,142 ships passed through the canal in 2000, while ten years later some 17,840 ships travelled through the Suez.
Arafa added that the canal was 164 km long at the time of its inception, and grew to 193 km by 2010, while its depth increased from 7.5 metres to 24 metres.