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Suez Canal


The Suez Canal is a 120-mile-long waterway through Egypt that connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea - which empties into the Indian Ocean. It was built so that ships could reach the Indian Ocean without having to sail around the southern tip of Africa. For ships that sail through the Suez Canal, the journey to the Indian Ocean is reduced by about 4,300 miles.


The Suez Canal took ten years to complete and tens of thousands of laborers, many of whom were forced to work on the canal by the Egyptian government with little more than picks and shovels. Eventually, heavy machinery was used, which accelerated the rate of progress in completion of the canal. Nevertheless, many workers died of epidemics such as cholera while the canal was built. The Suez Canal officially opened on November 17, 1869. It had a major effect on world trade. Not only did it drastically reduce the time it took to send and receive trade goods, but it also resulted in the colonization of Africa by European nations.


Today, thousands of ships pass through the Suez Canal each year at an average cost of $465,000! It takes between 11 and 16 hours for a ship to pass through the canal.


Panama Canal


The Panama Canal is a 48-mile long passageway that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the isthmus of Panama. For ships that sail through the Panama Canal, the trip between the oceans is reduced by nearly 8,000 miles. Before the Panama Canal, ships making the same journey would have to travel through the southern tip of South America at the treacherous Strait of Magellan.


France originally won the contract to build the canal, but ultimately failed because of corruption, disease, and construction problems. The United States took over the job and completed it within ten years. The canal opened on August 15, 1914. Nearly 45,000 workers dug through Panama’s mountains and jungles to complete the canal. Similar to construction of the Suez Canal, thousands of workers died of disease. Mudslides, falling rocks, and poisonous snakes also presented deadly dangers. Unlike the Suez, massive locks were built to lift and lower boats through the canal. A giant dam also had to be built that created an artificial lake through the middle of Panama. The United States controlled the dam for 100 years until ownership was transferred to Panama in 1999.


Today, over 12,000 ships travel through the canal each year. Costs of sailing through the canal depend on the weight of the ship. The average cost is $150,000. Most ships can cross the canal in 8-10 hours compared to two weeks if they sailed through the southern tip of South America.