The Suez Canal Authority has hit back at claims that increasing numbers of cargo vessels could save money by changing routes to avoid the canal in response to falling oil prices.
Danish research centre for maritime traffic analysis SeaIntel said in a report that the cost of bunker oil – the fuel commonly used by cargo ships – is now so low that it would be cheaper to reroute many services away from the Suez and Panama canals.
SeaIntel said it would be worth changing routes between Asia and the East Coast of the US and Asia and North Europe services away from the Suez Canal so that ships travel round the Cape of Good Hope.
The research centre said the Panama Canal would need to reduce fees by around 30% and the Suez Canal by around 50% to make journeys incorporating them between Asia and the East Coast of the US cost effective.
But Admiral Mohab Mamish, chairman and managing director of the Suez Canal Authority, denied there had been any slowdown in traffic at the canal.
He said traffic in the Suez Canal during 2015 had increased by 335 vessels to 17,483 ships. The net tonnage transported through the canal in 2015 reached 998.7m tonnes in 2015, an increase of 36m tons, or 3.7%, on the year before.
"The Suez Canal is the main route for world trade, and no other alternative can take its place in the field of maritime transport," he said.
The total tonnage of vessels travelling between the East Coast of the US and the Far East through the Suez Canal has risen from 5m tonnes in 2005 to 60m tonnes in 2015, he said.
Mamish said only 115 ships had rerouted around the Cape of Good Hope since October 2015.
In February 2016 the canal’s revenues were $401.4m, up $381.9m year on year.
In 2015 Egypt opened a major expansion of the canal, deepening the main waterway and opening a 22-mile parallel channel – enabling bigger ships to use the canal and two-way traffic.
This year the Panama Canal is also set to open a new expansion that will create an extra lane of traffic and a new set of locks, doubling the waterway’s capacity.