Who is Marwa Elselehdar? Captain who wasn't on Ever Given says she was blamed as she's 'successful female'
Elselehdar, working as a first mate in command of the Aida IV hundreds of miles away in Alexandria, found out she was being blamed for Ever Given’s mishap online
It took six days to free a giant container ship that ran aground and clogged the Suez Canal, one of the world’s most crucial shipping arteries. It wreaked havoc on the global maritime economy. It generated thousands of hilarious memes. And it also spawned fake news -- a captain was blamed for the whole fiasco, even though she was on board a different ship. Hundreds of miles away.
Marwa Elselehdar, who was working as a first mate, in command of the Aida IV, hundreds of miles away in Alexandria, found that she was being blamed for Ever Given’s mishap online. Rumors about Elselehdar's role on the Ever Given were largely spread by screenshots of a fake news headline -- supposedly published by Arab News. She told the BBC, "I was shocked."
Who is Marwa Elselehdar
Marwa Elselehdar was the first woman to work as a sea captain in Egypt. As per a report, the 29-year-old enrolled in the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport in Egypt and joined the International Transport and Logistics Department, but she was more drawn to the curriculum that was being taught to her brother in the Department of Maritime Transport and Technology.
While the department was limited to men, she submitted an application to join and was eventually accepted, becoming the first Egyptian woman to study in this department. “I started my journey in the department as the only woman among 1,200 students. I faced difficulties in adapting, especially during the first year, but the encouragement from those around me -- and my own ability to believe in my dream -- helped me overcome these challenges, and I graduated in 2013,” she said. After her graduation, Elselehdar joined the crew of the AIDA IV ship, with the rank of the second officer.
Eventually, she rose to the rank of first mate, and captained the Aida IV when it became the first vessel to navigate the newly-expanded Suez Canal in 2015. At the time, she was the youngest and first female Egyptian captain to cross the waterway.
Elselehdar, who has been working in the field for ten years, says that the percentage of women in similar maritime positions does not exceed two percent worldwide, adding that being the first Egyptian woman in this regard was a great honor for her. In 2017, Elselehdar was honored on Women’s Day by the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
Elselehdar told the BBC she had 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. Even during her studies, Elselehdar said she faced sexism at every turn. "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 said. "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 said. "But when you do what you love, it is not necessary for you to seek the approval of everyone."
When rumors emerged about her role in the Suez blockage, she feared for the impact it would have on her work. "This fake article was in English so it spread in other countries," said Elselehdar. "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."
But she is not demoralized. "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. "I decided to focus on all the support and love I'm getting, and my anger turned to gratefulness. Also, it is worth mentioning that I became even more famous than before.
As per the BBC, Elselehdar will soon be taking her final exam to attain a full rank of captain and hopes to be a role model for women in the 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.