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The stranded sailor

Stuck on a boat to nowhere

Syrian sailor Mohammad Aisha

A “labyrinth of Egyptian bureaucracy and maritime law” trapped Mohammad Aisha on a cargo ship for four years, say Joe Parkinson and Drew Hinshaw in The Wall Street Journal. In July 2017, two months after the 29-year-old Syrian sailor had boarded the MV Aman, it was impounded at an Egyptian port over the owner’s unpaid debts. With no money forthcoming, the 16 crew members played chess and cards to while away the time; each day Aisha’s mother would call him with updates about his homeland’s civil war.

One by one the frustrated crew departed. But Aisha, who had signed a letter making him the ship’s legal guardian, was forced to stay. By summer 2018 only three others remained. Aisha volunteered to cook, learning via Jamie Oliver videos and improvising with the ship’s “dwindling pantry”. A relative called in September to say his mother had died of cancer. By August 2019 the remaining crew had deserted him; deliveries of food and fuel from the owner’s agent became his only human contact. He would walk the decks at sunset and read Dostoevsky on his phone. At night it “was as dark and silent as a grave”.

Increasingly desperate, he would radio distress alerts and claim his vessel was no longer seaworthy. But if he came to shore in a dinghy, he would be arrested, kept in a police station for a few days, then escorted back. Finally, in December 2020, a seafarers’ union took up Aisha’s case – and in April he was set free. As he made his final circuit of the vessel, he thought: “I never want to see this damn ship again.”

Read the full article here (paywall).