Good Day Nick 

Thanks for the email – I will be writing about this topic again, if not this week, then next. 

Below is an article that appeared in The Diplomat – your fears about a Suez closure are well-founded. 

Regards 

Brian Ingpen

Never Say Never: What if Egypt Did Close the Suez Canal? 

Carrier Harry S. Truman and its escorts made their way through the Suez Canal last Monday, a reminder that 35-45 Atlantic-based U.S. Navy ships traverse this artificial waterway each year.

The transit came as commentators speculated that the unrest convulsing Egypt might interrupt shipping through the canal. How? The military regime might close it — or threaten to do so — in an effort to wring more aid out of Western countries. Or, supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi might launch some type of assault. Should the Muslim Brotherhood protests metastasize into an insurgency, attacks on infrastructure could become part of its repertoire. How better to discredit the army’s capacity to maintain order, elicit a self-defeating overreaction, or both, than by choking off a precious source of revenue?

That any such action will take place is doubtful … but never say never. Suppose, perchance, that the Suez were closed or disabled for some significant interval. The economic and military effects would reverberate throughout Asia and the Atlantic world. Such a debacle would lock eyes on maps, for one thing.

The Mediterranean Sea is a true middle sea, ringed almost entirely by solid landmasses. Its only natural entryways are at Gibraltar to the west and the Dardanelles and Bosporus — outlets into the Black Sea, another inland sea — to the east. Shutting the Suez, then, would temporarily erase the closest sea route connecting Europe and the North American east coast with the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf energy resources. Shipping would be forced to detour around the Cape of Good Hope, adding thousands of miles to voyages. Shipping firms and navies would incur extra fuel costs, and extra wear-and-tear on crews and hulls. Weeping would ensue. Teeth would be gnashed.

See the canal passage here : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfmYIw5gdLw

There is historical precedent for rearranging the map of Egypt, and the sea lanes with it. St. Petersburg dispatched its Baltic Fleet to the Far East during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. Japan’s ally Great Britain refused the tsar’s fleet passage through the canal, which London controlled at the time. Circumstances thus compelled Russian mariners to undertake the debilitating journey around Africa, through the Indian Ocean, and into the China seas to do battle with the Imperial Japanese Navy. Small wonder wreckage from the fleet soon lay strewn across the floor of the Tsushima Strait, the scene of combat.

Nor have time and technology negated the canal’s importance. The Axis closed the Mediterranean to Allied shipping for a time during World War II, burdening communications with South Asia. And in 1956, Britain, France, and Israel attacked Egypt to wrest back control of the canal after President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s government nationalized it. It took U.S., Soviet, and UN diplomatic intervention to dislodge the invading forces. Now as in bygone decades, access to the Indian Ocean basin could prove suspect in times of crisis or armed strife. Prolonged closure of the Suez would rearrange the U.S. Navy’s map of Eurasia. Faced with long transits around the Cape of Good Hope, naval leaders would be tempted to transfer forces to the Pacific Fleet, which would suddenly enjoy closer, easier access to the western Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf than would the Atlantic Fleet. The South China Sea would assume new importance as a Pacific Fleet conduit to South Asia. Finding new places to forward-deploy forces, or expanding existing bases convenient to the region, would take on new urgency. This wouldn’t quite amount to a butterfly effect, whereby a butterfly flaps its wings on one side of the globe and whips up a tempest on the other. Clearly, though, the contest over who rules Egypt could ripple far beyond that beleaguered land. It’s worth pondering potential workarounds — just in case.


From: Nick Dekker [mailto:nick@maritimebooks.co.za]
Sent: Sunday, August 25, 2013 11:24 AM
To: Brian Ingpen
Subject: Our coast
 

Brian, I sent the following letter to the CT but it’s well possible that Tony Weaver throws it out as his likes and dislikes tend to be personal rather than national. It might be a good idea if your column states, once more, the precarious state of our coastline. Yours, Nick Dekker.  

 

Suez Canal                

 

            www.maritimebooks.co.za 

The Suez Canal is,once more, surrounded by countries in a state of war. All sort of atrocities happen in Egypt and Syria of which the perpetrators remain unknown but that feed the fires of civil war. It doesn’t take much to block that canal, a few sunken ships are all that’s needed.

Of course, with that closure, maritime traffic would increase tremendously around our Cape and might even be beneficial for our port cities but the danger for our badly defended coastline would increase tenfold. South Africa is still not insured against the colossal damage that even a modest size 80 000 ton tanker could cause by getting  wrecked on our coast. The poor economic state of global shipping allows for many ships to be at sea that are not seaworthy around our Cape of Storms and if our government has, perchance, any functionaries capable to insure our coastal seas, they should get busy, very busy.

Nicholas Dekker, De Kelders, Gansbaai.


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