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Suez Canal chief says southern stretch to be expanded

Osama Rabie, Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, speaks during an interview with Reuters in his office in the city of Ismailia

CAIRO (Reuters) -The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) plans to expand and deepen the southern stretch of the waterway where a container ship became jammed and blocked traffic for six days in March, Chairman Osama Rabie said in a televised address on Tuesday.

Rabie presented the plan at an event attended by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who indicated that the project should be completed in 24 months at most.

The SCA plans to widen the southernmost 30-kilometre (18-mile) stretch of the waterway between the city of Suez and the Bitter Lakes area by 40 metres (130 feet) eastwards, Rabie said. It also plans to deepen that section to 72 feet from 66 feet.

A second canal lane that opened in 2015 north of the Great Bitter Lake to allow two-directional traffic would be extended by 10km on the southern side of the lake, to reach a total length of 82 km and allowing more ships to pass, Rabie said.

Sisi said that, while further expansion to the canal had been under consideration, the grounding of the 440-metre Ever Given container ship on March 23 highlighted the urgency of the plans.

The vessel, still loaded with thousands of containers, is being held in the Great Bitter Lake amid a dispute over an SCA compensation claim against the Ever Given’s Japanese owner Shoei Kisen.

(Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad; Writing by Nadine Awadalla and Aidan Lewis;Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Ed Osmond and Alex Richardson)

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