Egypt’s First Female Ship Captain Blamed For Suez Blockage

Egypt’s first female ship captain says she was blamed for blocking the Suez Canal despite being on a different ship hundreds of miles away.

Marwa Elselehdar was working as a first mate in command of the Aida IV in Alexandria when the Ever Given became wedged in the canal, bringing the major shipping route to a halt.

But online rumours and fake news headlines spread the falsehood that she had caused the container ship to run aground in Suez.

Edited photos and fake social media accounts pushed the lies which she fears have damaged her reputation.

The doctored headline was based on a genuine story by Arab News profiling her success as Egypt’s first female captain.

The 29-year-old does not know who started the rumours but believes she was targeted because of her gender.

She told the BBC: ‘I was shocked. I felt that I might be targeted maybe because I’m a successful female in this field or because I’m Egyptian, but I’m not sure.’

Women only make up two per cent of the world’s seafarers according to the International Maritime Organisation.

The Aida IV is owned by Egypt’s maritime safety authority and runs supply missions to a lighthouse in the Red Sea.

Cadets from the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport (AASTMT) are also trained on the ship.

Marwa says she was inspired to join the merchant navy after her brother enrolled at AASTMT, having always had a passion for the sea.

The academy only accepted men at the time but she still applied and after a legal review by then-president Hosni Mubarak, she was granted permission to join.

But Marwa said she endured sexism during her studies which she said she had to overcome alone.

She said: ‘People in our society still don’t accept the idea of girls working in the sea away from their families for a long time.

‘But when you do what you love, it is not necessary for you to seek the approval of everyone.’

She rose to the rank of first mate and captained the Aida IV when it became the first vessel to cross the Suez Canal after it was expanded in 2015, also becoming the youngest and first female Egyptian captain to navigate the waterway.

When the rumours spread about her involvement in the Ever Given crisis, she said she feared it would undo all the hard work she has put in.

Despite the many negative comments on the articles, she says some of the responses were encouraging.

She said: ‘I tried so hard to negate what was in the article because it was affecting my reputation and all the efforts I exerted to be where I am now.’

Marwa will taken her final exam next month to gain the full rank of captain and she hopes to continue to inspire women.

In 2017, she was honoured by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to mark Egypt’s Women’s Day.

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