On April 22, a Syrian sailor He returned home After spending nearly four years on an abandoned merchant ship in the Gulf of Suez, without electricity and clean water, due to a series of circumstances that are not rare in the world of maritime trade. The ship was blocked during one of his voyages because it did not respect certain safety rules, and since neither the ship’s owner nor the owners were able or wanted to resolve the situation, it was left to itself, in a kind of oblivion that still exists today. And since the court appointed him a legal guardian of the ship, the sailor could not leave it.
The position of the sailor named Muhammad Aisha was only decided because the International Transport Workers ’Federation, which is the Federation of Transport Workers’ Unions, It has been confirmed To be replaced by his representative as the legal guardian of the ship. However, problems in a world where large ships are abandoned and this happens without their entire crew being able to leave them far from a solution.
According to the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency dealing with social justice, currently There are 250 cases of abandoned ships with people on board. In 2020, new cases have doubled – 85 in total – compared to the previous year.
In this case, the story of Muhammad Aisha is particularly typical. It has been said He knew it BBC In the days when the Suez Canal was under the attention of the world media due to Portacontainer everThat stuck in it.
It all began in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on May 5, 2017, when Aisha – originally from Tartus, a Syrian city overlooking the Mediterranean Sea – joined the crew of the merchant ship. Or in safety As a first officer. After only two months, the Egyptian authorities banned the ship in the small port of Adabiya near the entrance to the Suez Canal due to the expiration of its safety certificates.
The situation could have been easily resolved through an overhaul, but the Lebanese shipowner refused to pay the necessary fuel costs, and the Bahraini company that owns the ship was facing financial difficulties. But for the Egyptian authorities, it was necessary to determine who was legally responsible and who remained on the boat. The captain of the ship – an Egyptian – was on the shore, so Aisha, who was the highest-ranking crew member, was chosen.
At first, Aisha did not understand what was involved in the court order. Only a few months later, when the other crew members began leaving and could not follow them, he discovered that he could only leave the ship if it was sold or someone else took his place. Meanwhile, the Egyptian authorities are holding his Syrian passport.
The years since then have not been easy for Aisha. In August 2018, he received the news of his mother’s death, without being able to see her again. A year later, the sailor is now completely alone on the MV Aman, now devoid of fuel and therefore of electricity. No one paid him his salary and his psychological condition continued to deteriorate, he said BBC That at night the ship looked like a grave to him.
Life on the ship was also unhealthy because, in addition to the lack of electricity and running water, there were mice, flies and mosquitoes, at some particularly numerous periods. A doctor recently visited him He said Aisha has symptoms of people who have been imprisoned for years in poor condition: she is malnourished, anemic, and has pains in her legs. Over time, conditions for the MV Aman also worsened and today the ship is ramshackle.
In March 2020, a storm caused the MV Aman to lose its berth: the boat then drifted 8 kilometers, to strand hundreds of meters from the coast, near the city of Adabiya. Aisha said he was very scared while the ship was drifting, but ultimately believed the storm was “an act of God” because it brought him close enough to the coast to allow him to swim ashore to recharge his phone and buy supplies. Every two or three days. However, these shore expeditions can last for a maximum of two hours, since the area near the ship is an area under military control.
MV Aman, Tylos Shipping and Marine Services, told A. BBC From their attempt over the years to help Aisha, but they were unable to because they were unable to ask the Egyptian authorities to revoke the legal guardian status: “I tried, but I cannot find one person on the ground to replace him,” a representative of the company said. In the end, he blamed Aisha for signing the documents that the Egyptian court had forced him to remain on the ship.
ITF has been trying for months to persuade Tylos Shipping and Marine Services to solve Ayesha’s situation, and, failing to do so, make efforts to bring the sailor home another way.
Aisha has now managed to return to her family, and despite her terrible experience, she says she wants to resume her job as a seafarer.
After 4 years, at home and with family again. pic.twitter.com/PDckOKvqyi
– Muhammad Aisha (mohammad_aisha) April 23, 2021
Other seafarers have found themselves or are still in a similar situation because it often happens that companies dealing with maritime trade have large debts. Wehbe Kara, a Turkish captain, also stayed for months on an abandoned ship in the Suez Canal: thanks to the ITF intervention, he now lives in a hotel not far from where the ship is docked, but he cannot leave Egypt.
Another 19 sailors, most of them Indians, have stuck on board the Al-Ula container ship in the Iranian port of Asalwiya since July 2019: They recently started a hunger strike for someone to help them. Someone told the trade magazine Lloyd’s List The situation on board the ship is “critical”, that the sailors are suffering from depression, and that their families are running out of money to support them as they are not getting their salaries.
The 25 Indian sailors on Evergreen also run the risk of suffering a similar fate. The ship at the moment It is stuck in Great Bitter LakeOne of the expansion of the Suez Canal: Seized by the Egyptian authorities until the settlement in favor of Egypt due to the damage caused by the traffic congestion caused by the ship in the canal.
Also read: What happened to Ever Given