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Sun 21 Oct 2007 09:55 AM

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Canal desires

A waterway from Dubai to Fujeirah has been a dream for generations. Perhaps its time has come.

With hindsight, they seem so obvious: the Panama Canal, Suez Canal, Channel Tunnel, King Fahd Causeway. Each of them enormous logistical, technical and financial challenges that took years, in some cases centuries, to move from idea to reality.

These projects cost billions, but ultimately recoup those billions and begin to deliver profits to nations and the world economy.

Another idea that has been in the air for many years is to carve out a canal running from Dubai in the west through to Fujeirah on the UAE's east coast.

I know there are mountains in the way. I know it is a distance of around 100 kilometres. And no, I do not have the technical expertise to know whether it is possible or not. Perhaps more learned experts in canal construction can add comments to this story and suggest how, or if it can be done.

But Dubai is the master of dreaming the impossible dream and turning it into reality. Palm Island, Burj Dubai and Dubai World Central seemed inconceivable only a decade ago, but they are appearing before our eyes.

And they are about to learn a whole lot about canals. The Arabian Canal will stretch for 75 kilometres in a loop from Palm Jebel Ali to Palm Jumeirah.

I can think of several reasons why a canal from Dubai to the east coast is a good idea.

First, it will cut the time for ships to reach the Middle East's largest port at Jebel Ali. By my estimates, it would shorten the journey from the Arabian Gulf to the Indian Ocean by about 500 kilometres, saving two precious days at sea for a tanker laden with oil.

Secondly, Dubai needs sand and rock for reclamation projects. According to Nakheel's CEO, it is becoming increasingly difficult to dredge sufficient sand to build the three Palm Islands. A 100 km canal large enough to allow oil tankers to pass each other would provide billions of valuable boulders.

Thirdly, it will provide more waterfront for real estate development. Granted, Dubai's affluent residents might not want super tankers surging past their front windows, but vast marinas could be built on spurs to the canal that would be just as desirable as those lining Dubai Creek today.

Finally, there is a security issue to consider. The Straits of Hormuz has sometimes been considered high-risk waters, as ships have to travel within 20 kilometres of the Iranian coast. Iran has threatened to mine the waters in the past, and with 20 percent of the world's oil travelling through the Strait every year, its security is a serious issue to the Middle East and the world.

An alternative route from the Gulf to the Indian Ocean makes strategic sense, and Dubai has the expertise, resources and leadership to achieve it.

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