Marwa Elselehdar was hundreds of miles away when the giant Ever Given container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal, yet online rumors immediately spread, saying she was responsible.
“I was shocked. 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,” Elselehdar, who is Egypt’s first female ship’s captain, told BBC.
The 29-year-old said she was at sea as the first mate in command of the Aida IV in Alexandria when the massive container ship became wedged in the Suez Canal last month. When she checked her phone, fake news headlines and online rumors said she was to be blamed for the incident which caused massive traffic for almost a week with hundreds of vessels waiting to pass through the Canal.
It is yet to be known who the captain of the Ever Given was, though Egyptian officials believe that human error may have caused the disaster. Elselehdar said the rumors about her involvement stemmed from a doctored image of a news headline that said she was involved in the Suez accident. The fake image appears to be from an actual story by Arab News about Elselehdar from March 22 that was not in any way related to Suez, BBC reported. “This fake article was in English, so it spread in other countries,” Elselehdar said.
“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.”
Elselehdar said she did not know who started the rumors or why they did that. She did receive some harsh comments, though many were supportive. “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,” she added.
Elselehdar was moved to join the merchant navy after her brother enrolled at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport (AASTMT). The academy did not accept women at the time but she applied and gained admission following a legal review by Egypt’s then-President Hosni Mubarak.
She overcame sexism during her studies and graduated. 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”, according to BBC. She was at the time the youngest and first female Egyptian captain to cross the waterway. Elselehdar was also honored by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi during Egypt’s Women’s Day celebrations in 2017.