Source: Suez Canal Authority.
The number of ships transiting and the tonnage handled by the Suez Canal underline two subsequent trends. From the 1980s to 2002, transits were in net decline while the tonnage handled steadily increased. This reflected the application of economies of scale, particularly in container shipping, as fewer ships transited roughly the same amount of cargo. The average net tonnage per transit increased from about 13,500 tons in 1980 to 33,000 tons in 2002.
After 2002, as global trade was booming, particularly between Asia and Europe, so did the number of transits. The tonnage handled more than doubled, with net tonnage per transit surging from 33,000 tons to 42,500 tons in 2008, implying that economies of scale were also taking place. The global economic slowdown of 2008 substantially impacted the traffic handled by the Suez Canal, with traffic and tonnage down by about 25% between 2008 and 2009. By 2013, traffic was back to pre-crisis levels, and net tonnage per transit surpassed 55,000 tons and kept increasing to reach 64,000 in 2019. This is attributable to the application of economies of scale in maritime shipping. After a decline linked to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, both the number of transit and tonnage surged to unprecedented levels in 2023. The Canal was even blocked for a full week in 2021 when the containership Ever Given ran aground, but this temporary event had no impact on the annual traffic. By late 2023, geopolitical events led to repetitive attacks on ships transiting the Red Sea, substantially impacting the number of transits, which will likely impact 2024 figures.