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Egypt’s first female shipmaster ‘blamed’ for Suez Canal blockage

By Rebecca Speare-Cole

Egypt’s first female shipmaster has revealed that she was blamed online for a huge container ship running aground in the Suez Canal.

STUCK SHIP EVER GIVEN, SUEZ CANAL — MARCH 26, 2021: Maxars WorldView-2 collected new high-resolution satellite imagery of the Suez canal and the container ship (EVER GIVEN) that remains stuck in the canal north of the city of Suez, Egypt. Please use: Satellite image (c) 2020 Maxar Technologies.

Marwa Elselehdar, who was working as a first mate in command on a ship hundreds of miles away in Alexandria at the time of the blockage, told the BBC rumours have circulated online saying she was to blame.

Last month, the Ever Given became stuck in the Suez Canal, bringing a large proportion of the world’s shipping to a halt.

After a huge operation, the ship was finally dislodged last week and the backlog of ships was cleared.

But not before Elselehdar found herself at the centre of an online conspiracy that she was the cause, according to the BBC.

The 29-year-old said: “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.”

The rumours were reportedly spurred on by screenshots of fake news headlines, saying she was involved in the incident.

Several Twitter accounts under her name also spread rumours that she was involved, the BBC reported.

Elselehdar told the broadcaster she doesn’t know who started the rumour and why.

She also spoke about the sexism she has endured since she joined the merchant navy and became one of the first women to enrol at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology And Maritime Transport.

She said: “Onboard, they were all older men with different mentalities, so it was difficult not to be able to find like-minded people to communicate with.”

“It was challenging to go through this alone and be able to overcome it without affecting my mental health.

A handout picture released by the Suez Canal Authority on March 25, 2021 shows Egyptian tug boats trying to free Taiwan-owned MV Ever Given (Evergreen), a 400-metre- (1,300-foot-)long and 59-metre wide vessel, lodged sideways and impeding all traffic across the waterway of Egypt’s Suez Canal.

“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 added.

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

Elselehdar told the BBC she was concerned about how the Suez canal rumours would impact her work.

She said: “This fake article was in English so it spread in other countries.

“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.”

But she also said she was encouraged by some responses, which were “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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