Egypt’s top female sailor falsely blamed for blocking the Suez Canal

Egypt’s first female ship captain found herself in the middle of a fake news campaign that wrongly blamed for the blockage of the world’s most important strategic marine route after the Ever Given container ship got stuck across the Suez Canal for almost a week.

A doctored news report alleged that 29-year old Marwa Elselehdar was responsible for the mishap in the Suez Canal that threatened billions of dollars of daily trade during the period of the blockage.

At the time of the incident, Capt Elselehdar was working many miles away in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. “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,” she told BBC News.

The rumours about Capt Elselehdar’s role in the crisis were propelled after online trolls falsified an article published by Arab News, reported South China Morning Post. The headline was changed from “Marwa Elselehdar: Egypt’s first female sea captain is riding waves of success” to “Cargo ship crashes into Suez Canal. First female Lloyd Arab captain involved in incident.”

“People in our society still don’t accept the idea of girls working in the sea away from their families for a long time,” she said.

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“This fake article was in English so it spread in other countries,” said Capt Elselehdar. “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.”

It is not the first time Capt Elselehdar has faced with hostility while serving in such a male-dominated industry – women make up just 2 per cent of the world’s seafarers.

She told BBC News that she joined the merchant navy academy the – Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport – at a time when it only accepted applications from male candidates. Her application was accepted only after a legal review by Egypt’s then-president Hosni Mubarak.

In 2015, she rose up the ranks and became the first captain to navigate through the expanding Suez Canal on the training vessel Aida 4, also becoming the youngest and the first female Egyptian captain to navigate the waterway. And in 2017, she was honoured by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi during Egypt’s Women’s Day celebration.

Though the comments on the article were negative and harsh, the sailor says that she is encouraged by the support she got from ordinary people. “Also, it is worth mentioning that I became even more famous than before,” she said.


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