Egypt's first female captain at centre of hideous Suez allegation

·3-min read

Egypt’s first female ship captain has revealed she was blamed by hordes of online trolls for blocking the Suez Canal despite being on a different ship hundreds of kilometres away.

Marwa Elselehdar, 29, was working as a first mate in command of a ship in Alexandria when she started seeing online rumours which claimed she was to blame for the huge container ship that became wedged, blocking one of the world’s major shipping routes on March 23.

"I was shocked," Ms Elselehdar told the BBC.

Captain Marwa Elselehdar (right) was onboard the Ever Given when it became stuck (left)
Captain Marwa Elselehdar (right) was on another boat hundreds of kilometres away from the Ever Given when it became stuck in the Suez Canal. Source: AAP/Instagram

It took a congregation of tugboats and dredgers to free the Ever Given after almost a week of being wedged diagonally across the Suez Canal.

The massive bungle, which cost many billions a day in delayed global trade as more than 400 ships waited to pass through the vital shipping route between Europe and Asia, continues to be investigated. 

Rumours about Ms Elselehdar’s involvement on the Ever Given were largely spurred on by screenshots of a fake news headline shared widely on social media which falsely accused her of being at the helm of the vessel. 

The screenshot showed a doctored image of Ms Elselehdar taken from a previous article about her being Egypt’s first female Captain published by Arab News, she told the BBC.

"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.

When the false rumours first began to go viral, Ms Elselehdar was concerned it may have a negative impact on her reputation in the industry.

Marwa Elselehdar being honoured by the member of the Senate (right).
Captain Marwa Elselehdar, who was honoured by a member of senate for her work in the martime field. Source: Instagram

The true identity of the ship's captain has not been made public, but Google searches currently surface Ms Elselehdar's name, thanks to coverage of the fake article. 

"This fake article was in English so it spread in other countries," she told the BBC.

"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 29-year-old said she was trolled online due to the wrongful allegation. Source: Instagram
The 29-year-old said she was trolled online due to the wrongful allegation. Source: Instagram

Ms Elselehdar is no stranger to challenges in her chosen field, with currently only 2 per cent of the world’s seafarers being female, according to the International Maritime Organisation.

In 2015, she served as Captain on the Aida IV when it became the first vessel to navigate the newly-expanded Suez Canal. At the time, she was the youngest and first female Egyptian captain to cross the waterway.

In 2017 she was honoured by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi during Egypt's Women's Day celebrations.

The female Captain told BBC she has worked too hard to let a false article bring her down and is instead “focusing on the love and support” she has received.

"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 said.

"Also, it is worth mentioning that I became even more famous than before.”

The Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal.
The Ever Given was costing the canal up to A$19 million a day when it was clogged. Source: Getty

Despite already captaining ships, Ms Elselehdar will take her final exam to attain a full Captain rank next month and hopes that she can continue to be a role model for women in her industry.

"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.

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