The work, which will deepen one of the world’s most famous waterways to 66 feet from its present 62ft, has stalled because of the record volumes of traffic on the canal in recent months.

Although the work was originally scheduled for completion last year, the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) appears to have decided that the shipping boom being enjoyed by the canal is too lucrative to ignore.

A record 20,384 ships passed along the 190 kilometre canal last year, up from 18,664 in 2006, itself a record at the time.

Correspondingly, revenues have been hitting new highs, reaching $4.5bn last year from $4.2bn in 2006. This year, the SCA has introduced higher tariffs to further boost income.

However, the knock-on effect of the growth in shipping traffic is that little time has been left for dredging, though the project is 75 per cent complete, having already taken six years and cost $250m. “There has been a delay to the work because of the lack of intervals between convoys of ships,” says an SCA official. “We only have from two to four hours between the convoys for the dredgers to work.

“The work was to be completed last year but traffic is so high that it will not be completed until the end of this year or possibly early next.”

The delay to completion of the dredging to 66ft will also postpone a final study considering a further move to 72ft.