Authorities in landlocked Swaziland are serious about building a channel to the Indian Ocean, the latest in the 21st century’s epic round of global canal construction.
Swaziland is looking at spending $216m building an inland port and a 70 km channel through to southern Mozambique.
The kingdom’s Minister of Commerce, Industry, and Trade Gideon Dlamini said this weekend the plan was for real and would offer alternatives to Maputo and Durban ports, both of which have draft restrictions.
“The problem with the Maputo and Durban ports is their shallowness. These two ports are not deep enough to handle heavy ships and we have received reports that there are ships that face difficulty docking in these ports because they are not deep enough,” he said.
“The proposal for our seaport shows that it will be very deep and this would enable bigger ships that cannot dock in both Maputo and Durban to come here. The seaport that we will have will be of first world status and will have better facilities compared to Maputo and Durban. The deeper the seaport the better, and ours will be better than Maputo and Durban,” Dlamini said.
The selected route of the 15 m deep canal however has already drawn the ire of environmentalists, as it traverses through two game parks.
However, the real stumbling block lies with Swaziland’s neighbour, Mozambique, where two thirds of the length of the proposed canal would pass through. Early indications from Mozambique are that the country is unwilling to give the project the greenlight, intent instead on developing Maputo port.
The engineering involved in such a waterway would be dramatic – the proposed inland port is some 275 m above sea level.
The Swazi minister, Dlamini, however is not worried about the infrastructure and geographic obstacles, telling a local newspaper yesterday: “The architects who presented the project to us demonstrated how this would be overcome and we were impressed. Surveys have been done and the steepness of the terrain will be dealt with.”
Both the Suez and Panama canals have undergone dramatic expansion in recent years while a centuries-old plan to develop the Kra Canal through southern Thailand has recently been back in the headlines.