Chief Mate Stranded on Abandoned Freighter for Four Years

Image courtesy ITF

Published Mar 22, 2021 6:54 PM by Paul Benecki

When Mohammad Aisha signed on as first officer of the container feeder MV Aman in 2017, he had no idea that he would not be signing off again. That July, the vessel was detained at an anchorage in Suez, Egypt, and it has remained there for nearly four years. Most of the crew went home in 2019, leaving Aisha to serve alone as her master, engineer, cook and deckhand.

According to the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), Aisha is legally tied to the vessel under a local court order that designated him as the ship's "legal guard." Except for an occasional swim to shore to fetch food and water, he is required to stay on board until the abandoned vessel sells at auction. 

“In March of last year, the ship ran aground due to rough weather,” Aisha told ITF in December 2020. “Since then, no-one is providing me with fresh water, provisions or diesel oil. I have had to swim to shore every few days to get food and water and to charge my phone. These days, getting to shore is endangering my life because of the cold and my bad health (I almost drowned several times).”

ITF says that the Egyptian authorities have viable options for repatriating Aisha to his native Syria. The need is urgent, the union says: the chief mate has been alone for more than 15 months and is reportedly showing signs of malnourishment, ill health and psychological deterioration. 

“I’ve requested repatriation many times,” Aisha told ITF. “But the port authorities are refusing to allow me to leave.”

ITF offered to pay for his flight home and his medical treatment. However, local officials have denied Aisha permission to leave and have been holding his passport, which is now expired. The union has called on the Bahraini flag state (the vessel's registry) to intervene in the case.

“This has to be one of the worst cases we’ve come across,” said Steve Trowsdale, the ITF Inspectorate Coordinator. “It is outrageous that after four years of serving as the legal fall guy for this ship, that the Egyptian port authorities still aren’t doing anything.”

Unfortunately, Aisha is not the only mariner trapped in Egypt by a local court order. The ITF is also attempting to win freedom for the captain of the freighter Kenan Mete: the master has been designated as her "legal guard" and has been forbidden to leave Egypt until the vessel's case is resolved or another guardian is appointed.