EFEBy Carles Grau Sivera Ismailia, Egypt

Egyptian authorities on Sunday marked the 150th anniversary of the Suez Canal, expressing both satisfaction with the waterway's performance and doubts about whether it will achieve its objectives.

Marking the occasion, Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie, chairman of the canal, praised the "success" achieved by the waterway, noting the efforts and sacrifices made by Egyptians over its history.

"Today is a day to remember the victories and challenges, as well as the sacrifices and all (the efforts) the Egyptians gave in the name of the canal," Rabie said during the ceremony.

Among those making sacrifices, the general noted, were the "100,000 martyrs" who lost their lives in 1869 during the construction of the canal, the shortest maritime route linking Europe and the countries of the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific.

Some 10 percent of the world's maritime trade passes through the canal and its share of the world's commerce has constantly been increasing, Rabie said.

He boasted of the records set by the canal following its most recent expansion, which was completed in 2015 to shorten the crossing time and allow bigger ships to navigate the waterway.

The canal, one of Egypt's main sources of hard currency, posted record income of $5.9 billion during the 2018-2019 fiscal year, a 5.4 percent increase from the previous fiscal year.

Despite the increase, the figures are far from being at the pace necessary to reach the goal of $13 billion in 2023 set by the Egyptian authorities during the inauguration of the new Suez Canal in August 2015.

A total of 20 billion Egyptian pounds ($1.2 billion) has been invested to expand the existing waterway and construct the new canal, inaugurated by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 2015.

Run by the Suez Canal Authorities, the new canal provides a two-way maritime route.

More than 70,000 vessels have gone through the canal since the expansion, officials said.

The income generated by the canal after the expansion "does not go along the path with which (the Egyptian government) justified the expansion," Timothy Kaldas, a political analyst at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, told EFE.

"Those numbers never made sense," Kaldas said.

Authorities, meanwhile, praised the project, announcing that 81 6.1-ton vessels went through the canal on Aug. 2, a record that still stands.

Samir Madani, an expert and co-founder of the TankerTrackers tracking service, said the canal does not meet the necessary requirements for handling huge oil tankers.

The waterway is not equipped to handle large tankers with a capacity of more than 300,000 tons, given that the heaviest vessel that navigated the canal displaced 240,000 tons, Madani said.

Madani said that if a vessel exceeds the weight limit, it may sink too much and will be forced to unload "almost half of its oil" in the SUMED (Suez-Mediterranean) pipeline.

The pipeline flows into western Alexandria and using it implies an additional cost for shipping companies.

"It would see much more activity if they dredged it in more depth and allowed the large oil tankers fully loaded to navigate," Madani said, adding that "there is more oil sailing" through Panama, the other major global canal.

"That's why a lot of vessels prefer to go around Africa" instead of passing through the Suez Canal, although it requires more time, the specialist said.

The idea of connecting the Red Sea with the Mediterranean dates back to 1874 BC, when Pharaoh Senusret III ordered a canal to be constructed, but a lack of technology aborted that attempt and several later efforts.

It was not until Nov. 17, 1869, that the Suez Canal was inaugurated, 10 years after French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps started the project with the help of nearly 1 million farmers.

De Lesseps also founded the Universal Company of the Maritime Canal of Suez, which was nationalized by President Gamal Abdel Naser in 1956.

Abdel Naser's move opened the door for Israel, Britain and France to attack Egypt, starting the Suez Crisis.

Since then, the Suez Canal has been a battlefield during the Arab-Israeli wars in 1967 and 1973.

Canal operations returned to normal in 1975, when Egyptian troops took control of the waterway's eastern shore.

The Suez Canal remains a strategic waterway that is always monitored by the Egyptian army, especially during times of unrest, like the 2011 uprising. EFE cgs/ta/fc/hv