Mar 31, 2021
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Suez Canal Needs Alternatives

On the project for the construction of a canal between the Caspian Sea and the Indian Ocean

The history of the blocking of the Suez Canal by a container ship Is always Green will be discussed for a long time. The procedures for settling the economic consequences of the incident (most likely through the courts) will also be very lengthy.

March 27 insurance company Allianz reported that the loss of world trade due to Ever green may amount to $ 230 billion. However, this estimate is not final, the final damage has not yet been calculated, but it is obvious that its magnitude will be astronomical.

It is very important that this story becomes a lesson for both the victims and those who were not happily among them. For example, the question of “flags of convenience”, which is used by shipping companies in most countries of the world, has surfaced again. Vessel Ever green owned by a Japanese shipping company Shoy Kisen, which in turn is a subsidiary of the largest Japanese shipbuilding corporation Imabari Shipbuilding… Container ship Ever green leased to a Taiwanese company Evergreen Marine… At the same time, the ship itself sails under the flag of Panama. This is the so-called “flag of convenience”, which means that the vessel is registered in a jurisdiction very similar to an offshore one (low registration fees and simplified registration procedures, low tax rates, the possibility of an international crew, wages at minimum rates). A number of international organizations have been fighting for a long time with such “offshorization” of the merchant fleet. This is also because jurisdictions that give ships “flags of convenience” are very difficult to prosecute in the event of damage caused by such ships. Most often this is pollution of the marine environment, but there may be other damages. For example, illegal fishing by a vessel in the coastal waters of a state. Panama is the most popular FOC jurisdiction. Other FOC jurisdictions are Liberia, Malta, Bahamas, Cyprus, Singapore. Most of the Russian ships also sail under FOCs (the most popular are Liberia, Malta and Cyprus).

We can confidently say that the story with Ever green will be used by supporters of the elimination of the institution of “flags of convenience”. They will strive to ensure that the bulk of the responsibility rests with Panama. Although skeptics say that, most likely, the arrow will be transferred to the real ship owner, i.e. the Japanese company Shoei Kisen. And if this happens, this corporation will simply go bankrupt.

Among the possible lessons of history Ever green there is also a larger one: isn’t it time to revise the usual routes of sea transportation of goods? Isn’t it time to get away from the risks associated with possible bottlenecks?

By the way, there are not so few “bottlenecks” like the Suez Canal on the planet. Some of them are of natural origin. Others are handmade. Of the man-made – no less significant than the Suez, is the Panama Canal, opened in 1920. The channel (or rather its users) was lucky. For 90 years it was open, and only in 2010 was temporarily closed for pilotage due to bad weather and rising water levels as a result of incessant downpours.

There are much more natural bottlenecks – the Bosphorus, Dardanelles, Gibraltar, Aden, Hormuz, Malacca and other straits. And the straits have always been objects of great geopolitical games.

Suez canal

I would like to remind you that Suez is not such a reliable object of international transport logistics. Over the century and a half history of the channel, there have been many episodes when it was blocked. The Suez Canal was opened to shipping on November 17, 1869. At that time, Egypt was under British control, and the canal was operated by the General Company of the Suez Canal, an Anglo-French enterprise (its founders were Rothschilds). Egypt was removed from both canal management and profits. This position was further strengthened after Great Britain occupied Egypt in 1882. In 1956, the management company was nationalized by the then President of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser… In July 1956, the so-called Suez Crisis broke out – a weeklong war against Egypt, in which the British, French and Israeli armed forces participated. The canal was partially destroyed, the Egyptians blocked it, sinking about fifty ships. Shipping was restored only in April of the following year. The then crisis was quickly ended thanks to the decisive support of Egypt by the Soviet Union.

The next pause in the functioning of the Suez Canal arose after the Six-Day Arab-Israeli War in 1967, the canal was closed again. During the next Arab-Israeli War of 1973 (Yom Kippur War), the Egyptian army successfully crossed the canal. After that, demining of the channel was carried out, including with the participation of ships of the USSR Navy. In 1975, the canal was reopened for shipping.

These are blockages provoked by politico-military reasons, but there were also a large number of small blockages in Suez for technical reasons. So, on August 18, 1990 the tanker Silver energyflying the Maltese flag crashed into the bank of the canal due to a malfunction in the engine. As a result, the tanker received a hole from which oil spilled. The tanker was towed to a safe area, and the oil slick was localized. A few hours later, the movement of ships resumed. A little over a month later, another unpleasant story happened: on September 29, an American container ship Robert Lee due to an engine accident, it also crashed into the shore, which led to the congestion of more than 80 ships. The movement was resumed only the next day. December 6, 2007 ship Eiffel, registered in the Bahamas, because of the accident, stopped in the northern part of the canal and blocked the movement of 33 ships for several hours.

And the largest technical blockage was recorded in 2004: on November 7, a tanker sailing under the Liberian flag Tropical glitter ran aground near the city of Ismailia due to breakdown of navigation equipment. It carried more than 140 thousand tons of crude oil on board. The tanker completely blocked the movement, more than 100 vessels have accumulated on both sides of the channel. As a result of the accident, none of the crew members was injured, and no threat to the environment was created. The vessel was removed from the shallows only two days later. According to experts, Egypt’s losses from this incident (uncollected tolls for the passage of ships) amounted to approximately $ 24 million.

The last time (before the case with Ever green) navigation in the Suez Canal was interrupted in October 2017. Then, due to technical problems, the Japanese container ship OOCL ran aground, turning perpendicular to the fairway. The blocking lasted for several hours.

Numerous expert comments on the history of Ever green are based on the assumption that the resulting blockage was due solely to technical reasons (malfunctions of the vessel’s equipment, errors of the captain, pilots and crew). However, there are other opinions. For example, article Sergey Latyshev “The Suez Canal was blocked at the behest of the United States.” Prominent American opposition news outlet QAnon also adheres to the “conspiracy” version. I will not retell it. And I will not take one side or the other ahead of time.

However, the whole story once again showed how fragile and unreliable everything is. If one wishes, it is not so difficult to organize a blockage in the “bottleneck” of Suez or some other canal. You don’t have to go far for examples. In Egypt, in 2015, members of the Muslim Brotherhood * organization banned in Russia were arrested, who, according to the investigation, intended to commit just a terrorist attack in order to block the Suez Canal. The conspirators’ plan (a group of 13 people) boiled down to laying several mines in the most vulnerable places of the canal. The planned costs were measured in tens (maximum – hundreds) of thousands of dollars. And the economic damage could be measured in tens (even hundreds) of billions of dollars.

International tension is growing. US aggression is increasing. By deliberately blocking the channel, Washington could kill many birds with one stone (these “birds with one stone” are well described in the above-mentioned article by Sergei Latyshev).

And one cannot but agree with those who believe that history with Ever green Is a strong argument in favor of those alternatives to the Suez Canal and other bottlenecks that have been discussed for years. Moreover, many alternatives are very beneficial to Russia.

First of all, this is the Northern Sea Route (NSR). From an economic point of view, for many shippers and consignees, this route is more profitable than through the Suez Canal. It is still warm, but navigation is not difficult to make and year-round. Russia has the opportunity to quickly build up its fleet of icebreakers for the winter operation of the NSR. In addition, more active use of the railway route across Russia from its western borders to the Pacific coast is possible.

These alternatives are widely discussed. But another alternative is remembered much less often. I mean the project to build a canal from the Indian Ocean to the Caspian Sea through Iran. But this project is more than 140 years old. The idea was born after the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-78. Despite the victory over Turkey, Russia did not manage to seize the coveted Constantinople (Istanbul) and establish control over the Bosphorus, which would enable Russia to freely enter the Mediterranean Sea, and then to the vastness of the World Ocean. England, France and Germany interfered. And that’s when Alexandru III and his associates came up with the idea of ​​digging a canal through the territory of Iran, which would connect the Indian Ocean with the Caspian Sea. And across the Caspian along the Volga – the road to the north, to the Baltic … This is more abruptly than “the way from the Varangians to the Greeks.” The idea was hatched and discussed for a long time.

Canal projects from the Caspian to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean

When Nicolae II in 1904, a Russian-Iranian commission was created, and work began on the design of the canal. We started to work out the options for the canal route. There were two options – western (to the coast of the Persian Gulf) and eastern (directly to the vastness of the Indian Ocean). The project had already not only trade and economic, but also military and strategic significance. However, the war with Japan began, then the First World War, the February and October revolutions, the civil war, the intervention … At first, the project was postponed, and then completely forgotten. By the way, I remembered the project I.V. Stalinwhen at the Tehran Conference of 1943 he met and talked with the Shah of Iran.

After World War II, negotiations between the USSR and Iran on this project took place several times. For various reasons, its implementation was postponed, Iran was under strong influence of the United States. After 1991, Moscow did not seriously raise the issue of building the canal. I also do not exclude the fact that in 1997 Washington warned Tehran that the most severe economic sanctions would be taken against any companies and organizations that dare to start building the canal. After all, this project can weaken the geopolitical influence of the United States.

And today, favorable conditions are emerging for the rapprochement between Russia and Iran. And this rapprochement could begin with a project for the construction of the mentioned canal.

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