The Suez Canal is experiencing significant growth in freight transport, according to a report by SRM Study and Research Centre for Southern Italy and the Intesa San Paolo Group, presented during a conference in Naples.

The report said the Suez Canal set a double record in 2018, both for the number of transiting ships (over 18,000, +3.6%) and for cargo transported (983.4 million tons, +8.2%). It highlighted how the enlargement of the Suez Canal led to a 12% growth in the median size of ships passing through in 2018 compared to 2014, the year prior to the expansion.

It said the new infrastructure is supporting the demands of the phenomenon of gigantism, which regards all types of shipping.

Container ships are the most numerous of those that transited the Suez Canal (5,706, +2.5%). Freight traffic totalled 983 million tons, up 8.2% on 2017, when the previous freight record was set.

The new record came from freight traffic crossing the Canal from both the north as well as the south, with 524.6 million tons (+9.8%) in the north-south direction and 458.8 million tons (+6.6%) in the south-north direction. These increases broke the two previous records set in 2017.

Container and oil shipping make up 74% of total freight traffic, with containers transporting over half of all freight.

The Suez Canal is the third most important route in the world for oil and natural gas transport from the Gulf to Europe and North America.

These two routes represent about 9% of worldwide oil trade by sea.

The traffic trend also shows that the doubling of the Canal is gradually changing the worldwide maritime transport order, above all along the East-West route.

In the past 11 years, traffic from Southeast Asia to the Mediterranean has gone up by 37%, together with traffic growth to and from the Gulf, up 77%, where China is the final destination for much of the commercial exchange.

The study said the presence of China among the main origin and destination areas of transiting cargo in the Mediterranean explains the strategic value of the Suez Canal in view of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

There are now 113 countries involved in some way with the project, nearly 50 more than those originally signed on.

Starting from September 2017, China had already signed cooperation agreements with 74 countries.

The study said financial resources for the BRI will reach 8,000 billion dollars through the entire investment period, with China counting on North African countries as a key area.

The report said China sees North African countries as a production area for European markets; as a logistics port for Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa; and as an energy hub for oil, gas, and renewables.