ISMAILIA, Egypt (AP) — Work on a parallel waterway to allow two-way traffic on Egypt's Suez Canal will be finished in time to allow ships to transit for a gala inauguration ceremony at the key trade route on Aug. 6, officials said Saturday.
Work has been 85 percent completed, with 43 dredging machines working round the clock to finish their excavation by July 15, canal authority chief Mohab Mameesh said. Electronic navigation systems have been installed and pilots are training on simulators equipped with maps of the new canal.
"People haven't slept... it's like a battle," he told reporters in the canal city of Ismailia, 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Cairo. "It is boosting our self-confidence and we are hoping this project will return Egypt to the path for investment."
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has ordered the new waterway to be dug in a single year, saying that the urgency of Egypt's economic situation meant the project could not wait for an originally planned three-year timetable.
The government aims to more than double annual canal revenues to some $13 billion in less than a decade, although that ambitious goal depends largely on rapid growth in world trade. The canal drew in $5.5 billion in revenues last year, its most lucrative since it was first opened in 1869.
Authorities also plan to build an industrial and logistical zone along the canal over the next five years, hoping to draw investment on the vital shipping lane between Asia and Europe for companies eager to place operations along the route.
On a tugboat tour of new canal sections, dozens of dredgers, ships and bulldozers were at work, spitting sand, pushing earth and reinforcing embankments with concrete and stone.
In a presentation, canal authorities gave few details about the inauguration ceremony, except that el-Sissi would be in attendance along with world leaders and some 200 celebrities to observe traffic flowing simultaneously north and south through the canal.
Mameesh said funding for the festivities will come from private companies and that it would not cost the state budget "a single penny."