Seafarer Mohammad Aisha boarded an airplane last night to return to his native Syria, ending a four-year battle where he was forced to live on an abandoned ship in the Suez Canal while the vessel waited to be sold.
Aisha was the chief officer onboard the Bharani-flagged Aman for just two months before the vessel was detained by Egyptian authorities due to expired safety equipment certificates.
When the owner abandoned the ship an Egyptian court designated Aisha the vessel’s legal guardian – preventing him from leaving the Aman until the ship was sold or a replacement guardian found.
The vessel had no power and was covered in insects and rodents. Aisha had to swim ashore to charge his phone, and for food and water.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) sealed the seafarer’s freedom last week, after he had become the subject of many mainstream news profiles. The ITF offered an Egyptian court to have one its union representatives in Egypt take Aisha’s place and become the legal guardian of the vessel.
“So much has changed in the last four years. Mohamed’s home in Syria could be unrecognisable. Some of his family died years ago. The delays mean he will never see his mother again, and that is terribly sad. Mohammad has lost four years of his life,” commented ITF Arab World and Iran network coordinator Mohamed Arrachedi.
Arrachedi said Aisha’s case had put an important spotlight on Egypt’s problematic system of legal guardianship in cases of seafarer abandonment, something the ITF is now demanding changes.
Aisha’s case is similar that of Vehbi Kara, 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 Kenan Mete. ITF advocacy saw Kara released to a nearby hotel, but he remains unable to leave Egypt.