The Panama Canal and Suez Canal: How They Compare

When it comes to global shipping, there are many important lanes in between land masses. But there are two extraordinary artificial waterways that have been built to bypass entire continents: the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal.

As every marine shipping agency will attest, both have long played huge roles in the global economy and continue to do so. This was never more apparent than when the Suez Canal was suddenly blocked for a week when the Ever Given ran aground last year, holding up over 150 vessels and blocking a route through which 12 per cent of global goods pass.

This situation forced some companies to at least consider taking the old route around the Cape of Good Hope a much longer journey, though nowhere near as long as the much more southerly and chilly trip around Cape Horn ships used to endure before the Panama Canal arrived.

The Suez Canal was dug between 1854 and 1867 and was originally 164 km long, but now measures 193 km. It is also deeper and more areas will be widened and deepened to protect against a repeat of the Ever Given situation. Furthermore, there are plans to dig a second canal alongside the existing one to provide a huge capacity boost.

By comparison, the Panama Canal is 80 km in length, with locks at either end to raise or lower the ships between the different sea levels of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Like the Suez Canal, it is being expanded with a second channel.

The idea of a canal across the Isthmus is more recent than in Suez, dating to the 1500s. An abortive attempt was made by France to establish a canal before the US, having originally considered an alternative route across Nicaragua, dug the canal between 1904 and 1914.

Both canals are vital for world shipping, both are huge feats of engineering carried out in hospital environments. But perhaps Panama has one little element of one-upmanship to celebrate: It is there that the Ever Given is registered.