Egypt's first female ship's captain says she was 'blamed for blocking the Suez Canal'

Egypt's first female ship's captain says she was 'blamed for blocking the Suez Canal'

Egypt's first female captain has spoken out after she was falsely blamed online for last month's blockage on the Suez Canal.

Marwa Elselehdar explained that after learning that the skyscraper-sized Ever Given had become stuck, she checked social media on her phone only to see accusations that she was to blame.

The accusations came despite the fact that she was working miles away in Alexandria as a first mate in command of the Aida IV.

A number of Twitter accounts also spread the false story that she was somehow responsible for the blockage on the canal.

In an interview with the BBC, the 29-year-old explained that she does not know who originally spread the story that she blocked the canal or why.

"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 said.

Elselehdar said that the rumors were primarily spread via screenshots of a fake news headline allegedly from Arab News, which claimed she was responsible for the incident.

She explained that she was inspired to pursue a naval career after her brother enrolled at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime Transport (AASTMT).

Despite the fact that the academy was only accepting men at the time, she was allowed to study there when her application was reviewed by Egypt's then-President Hosni Mubarak.

However, the female sailor explained that when she was training for her career, she faced constant sexism.

"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," she says. "It was challenging to go through this alone and be able to overcome it without affecting my mental health."

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

Elselehdar became the youngest female Egyptian captain to cross the Suez Canal when she captained the Aida IV as the first mate in 2015.

President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi honored the 29-year-old during Egypt's Women's Day celebrations in 2017.

The Evergreen. Credit: Alamy / DPA Picture Alliance

When people began to speculate that she was responsible for the blockage, she feared the long-term implications this could have for her career.

However, she has been encouraged by some aspects of the response to the incident.

"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."

Elselehdar will be taking her final exam next month which will enable her to officially become a captain.

"My message to females who want to be in the maritime field is fight for what you love and not let any negativity to affect you," she said.

Featured image credit: Alamy / DPA Picture Alliance