Marwa Elselehdar: ‘I was blamed for blocking the Suez Canal’

Marwa Elselehdar: ‘I was blamed for blocking the Suez Canal’

Last month, Marwa Elselehdar noticed something strange.

News had broken about a huge container ship, the Ever Given, that had become wedged across the Suez Canal, bringing one of world’s major shipping routes to a halt.

But as she checked her phone, online rumours were saying she was to blame.

“I was shocked,” says Marwa, Egypt’s first female ship’s captain.

At the time of the Suez blockage, Ms Elselehdar was working as a first mate, in command of the Aida IV, hundreds of miles away in Alexandria.

The vessel, owned by Egypt’s maritime safety authority, runs supply missions to a lighthouse in the Red Sea. It’s also used to train cadets from the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport (AASTMT), a regional university run by the Arab League. Rumours about Marwa Elselehdar’s role on the Ever Given were largely spurred by screenshots of a fake news headline – supposedly published by Arab News – which said she was involved in the Suez incident.

The doctored image appears to be from a genuine Arab News story, released on 22 March, which profiles Marwa’s success as Egypt’s first female ship captain. The picture has been shared dozens of times on Twitter and Facebook.

Several Twitter accounts under her name have also spread false claims that she was in involved with the Ever Given.

Marwa Elselehdar, 29, told the BBC she has no idea who first spread the story or why they did it.

“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.

It’s not the first time she’s faced challenges in an industry historically dominated by men. At present, women only account for 2% of the world’s seafarers, according to the International Maritime Organisation.