Marwa Elselehdar Suez Canal scapegoat: How Egypt’s first female ship captain came to be falsely blamed for the Ever Given Suez blockage crises.
Marwa Elselehdar, 29, 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.
Online rumors, fake news headlines and doctored images along with fake social media accounts spread the falsehood that she had caused the container ship to run aground in Suez Canal last month.
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 rumors but believes she was targeted because of her gender.
‘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 the BBC.
‘People in our society still don’t accept the idea of girls working in the sea away from their families for a long time.’
‘This fake article was in English so it spread in other countries,’ Elselehdar explained.
‘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.’
In 2015 Elselehdar became the first captain to navigate through the expanding Suez Canal on the training vessel Aida 4.
Of note, 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.
— Anshuman (@JaswalAnshuman) April 4, 2021
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.
Elselehdar 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 rumors spread about her involvement in the Ever Given crisis, she said she feared it would undo all the hard work she has put in.
Marwa will taken her final exam next month to gain the full rank of captain and she hopes to continue to inspire women.
The Ever Given spent six days wedged into the side of the canal, blocking traffic in both directions.
Nearly a week after the container ship was dislodged, Suez canal authorities say they have cleared the backlog of vessels waiting to pass through.
The canal offers a shortcut between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, saving vessels the incredibly long journey of sailing all the way around Africa.