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Chief Mate Stuck on Abandoned Freighter for Four Years Goes Home

abandoned seafer in Egypt goes home
The abandoned seafarer had resorted to swimming ashore for food and ower (ITF photo)

Published Apr 22, 2021 5:44 PM by The Maritime Executive

The four-year plight of a sole seafarer trapped on his vessel unable to go home due to political and legal hurdles has been resolved. The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) reports that its local union representative, who had been pleading the case to Egyptian port and immigration officials, was able to arrange a solution and tonight the seafarer boarded a flight to return home to his family.

The ITF a month ago called attention to the seafarer who had been left abandoned on his ship in Egypt. Mohamed Aisha signed on as chief officer of the Bahrian-flagged container feeder ship MV Aman in 2017, but two months later the vessel was detained by Egyptian authorities due to expired safety equipment certificates. The owners abandoned the ship and under an arcane Egyptian law, the courts designated Aisha the vessel’s “legal guardian” preventing him from leaving until the ship was sold. Most of the crew went home in 2019, leaving Aisha alone on the Aman.

Abandoned on the ship, the situation had grown progressively worse for the seafarer, and then in March 2020, the vessel ran aground due to rough water. With no fuel for power and no water aboard, Aisha told the ITF he had resorted to swimming ashore to get food and water and charge his phone.

“This has been one of the most frustrating abandonment cases I have worked on because the situation has been so desperate for Mohammad for so long,” said ITF Arab World and Iran network coordinator Mohamed Arrachedi. “It has to be said that the suffering caused to Mohammad could have been avoided if the shipowner and the other parties with obligations to him and the ship did the right thing from the start.”

The ITF has been representing Aisha’s case to Egyptian port and immigration officials on an almost daily basis. After months of frustration at inaction from the shipowner, the Bahraini registry, and Egyptian authorities, the ITF reports a breakthrough came last week.

“When we put forward one of our ITF contacts to take Mohammad Aisha’s place, it was accepted by the court, and we were then able to advance the necessary immigration processes and arrange the Covid PCR tests to start to get him home,” the ITF reports.

Aisha said he cannot quite believe that his nightmare trapped aboard the Aman has finally come to an end. He was skeptical until he boarded the airplane at Cairo airport bound for his native Syria.

While the ITF was pleased to have completed his repatriation, they noted that Aisha’s case is not over. The union is continuing its fight to recover the seafarer’s wages.

The ITF is also using the opportunity to again call for reforms to the legal guardianship system used when owners abandon their ships. Far from the only case of a seafarer caught under the law, the ITF reports that it is also working on a similar case for a Turkish master who was trapped aboard a ship in the Suez Canal for months when an Egyptian court made him legal guardian of the abandoned MV Kenan Mete. Unlike the case of the Aman, however, in this case, the ITF was able to have Captain Vehbi Kara released to a nearby hotel, but he remains unable to leave Egypt due to the same system.