Respect Equality

Egypt’s first female captain defends innocence after blamed for blocking Suez Canal

Story at a glance

  • The Ever Given was caught in the Suez Canal for six days before it was freed, delaying billions of dollars in cargo.
  • Online, a fake headline blamed Egypt’s first female captain, who was not on board, for the incident.
  • The captain spoke to the British Broadcasting Corporation to clear her name.

Marwa Elselehdar was shocked to see her name in a headline involving the container ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal — considering she was hundreds of miles away in Alexandria, Egypt, on the Aida IV. 

“This fake article was in English so it spread in other countries,” Elselehdar told the BBC, defending her innocence. “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.” 

The article in question, published March 22 by Arab News, chronicled her success as Egypt’s first female sea captain. But a doctored headline quickly made the rounds online and trolls were quick to pile on.


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“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,” Elselehdar told the BBC. She added, “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.” 

So who was to blame for blocking the Suez Canal and causing delays in billions of dollars of cargo? It depends on how you look at it. 

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), a multinational shipping company based in Germany, were the technical managers of the Ever Given, which is owned by Shoei Kisen Kaisha, a subsidiary of a Japanese shipbuilding company, and operated by the Evergreen Marine, a shipping company based in Taiwan, but registered in Panama. At the time, pilots from the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) were on board as consultants and are now under scrutiny, although the steering of the vessel remained the responsibility of the captain and the crew. 


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In a statement, BSM said initial investigations “suggest the vessel grounded due to strong wind” and ruled out mechanical or engine failure. But the SCA chief said strong wind and weather factors “were not the main reasons for the ship’s grounding” and that “there may have been technical or human errors.” 

An investigation is ongoing, but one thing is for sure: Elselehdar was not involved. Despite the vitriol, however, she’s trying to see the bright side, which includes raising her profile and inspiring other women to follow in her footsteps. 

“The comments on the article were very negative and harsh but there were so many other supportive comments from ordinary people and people I work with,” she says. “I decided to focus on all the support and love I’m getting, and my anger turned to gratefulness.”


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