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Suez Canal Shipping Open to All Except Nuclear-Powered Ships

July 22, 1987

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ The Suez Canal, the main shortcut between Europe and Asia, is open to all ships under a 19th century agreement. But it has been closed to some ships under wartime conditions, and Egypt bans nuclear-powered ships.

Freedom of navigation in the canal is guaranteed by the Constantinople Convention of 1888, signed 19 years after the waterway was built. When opened, the canal cut the traveling distance between England and India by 6,000 miles.

The 101-mile-long channel links the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. ″The canal welcomes everybody, not only to help international trade but also to boost canal income for Egypt,″ said Capt. Aly Nasr, the Suez Canal Authority’s deputy director of transit and chief pilot.

Canal transit tolls totaled almost $1 billion last year, and officials project a 10 percent increase in 1987. The canal is Egypt’s third-largest foreign currency earner, after remittances from Egyptians working overseas and oil exports.

The only restrictions on canal traffic are on nuclear-powered ships, although they are sometimes allowed under special circumstances, and ships with technical faults or structural anomalies that could threaten navigation.

The canal has been closed to some ships in wartime.

Britain, whose forces occupied the canal zone in World War II, blocked ships from Germany, Italy and Japan under the Constantinople Convention article permitting a ban on ships posing threats to navigation.

Egypt banned Israeli ships from the canal from 1948, when the Jewish state was founded, to 1979, when Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty. Nasr said the state of war between the two in that period ″entitled Egypt under international law and the Constantinople Convention to deny passage to Israeli vessels.″

The Suez Canal was built and run by an Anglo-French company until July 1956, when Egypt nationalized it. The canal was closed for a few months after the subsequent 1956 Egypt-Israel war, provoked by British and French anger over the nationalization. In the 1967 war, the Egyptians scuttled several ships in the canal, closing it for eight years.

An Egyptian government committee is reviewing the rules barring nuclear- powered ships, Nasr said.

″The rule is still no, and whatever exceptionswere made in the past for political or humanitarian reasons will not prejudice the final decision on regular passage of nuclear-powered ships,″ Nasr said.

In recent years, Egypt twice allowed nuclear-powered U.S. ships to transit the canal. In the latest instance, Egypt allowed the U.S. aircraft carrier Enterprise and two nuclear-powered escorts to pass into the Mediterranean after the U.S. bombing of Libya on April 15, 1986.

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