The ship had gone from chaos to total silence in a matter of weeks.
Now, it was like a floating graveyard he couldn’t escape. Even prison would have been better. The company made it sound so easy, like it would be over in a few days. If he had known what the document he had signed really meant, he would never have touched the pen.
Mohammed Aisha was thrilled when he first got the job with MV Aman in 2017.
Serving as a ship’s chief officer for a transport company would be good money that he could use to help his family. So, when they set off from Syria, he had high hopes. But these hopes would soon turn into a nightmare.
The first domino in the cascade of disasters was a few pieces of paper.
The Egyptian port of Adabiya found their classification certificates were expired. Then, they discovered some expired safety equipment. Aisha couldn’t believe it! All of this should have been sorted out by the owner before leaving port. But it only got worse.
The Egyptian government wouldn’t let them leave until the problems were fixed.
When the next piece of news came in, Aisha had to sit down. Not only was the company having money troubles, they also didn’t pay for enough fuel for them to go any further. That’s when people started to leave.
One by one, the crew abandoned ship to fly home.
The local court officials said since the captain was Egyptian, and Aisha was the next senior officer, he was legal guardian of the property until the company sorted things out. They waved a piece of paper in his face and demanded he signed it. He had no idea he was about to sign a four-year sentence of isolation and bodily danger.
Aisha watched, confused and helpless as they took his passport and left him on board.
The first few months seemed tolerable. There was power, water, and things to keep him busy – mostly counting down the unknown number of days until help arrived. When the power ran out, the worry grew. When the food and water ran out, he turned terrified.
The boat turned dark, steaming hot, and filled with rodents and bugs.
No one would come to help him or drop off supplies. The days alone took their toll on his mind until he felt like he was losing it. It only got worse when, after two agonizing years, he found out his mother had passed away.
He begged the authorities to give him his papers, but they refused and left him to be stranded.
More than one night he cried himself to sleep – for not being there for his family and for being so foolish to sign the paper. But he was also furious.
The ship was pushed 4 miles down the shoreline by strong winds and waves.
He now sat closer to shore. The food had run out and he could feel his strength slipping away. Aisha made the impossible decision to try to swim to shore to get help.
He pulled through the dirty waters of the Suez Canal, his phone and the tiny amount of cash he had left in a waterproof bag.
He had only two goals – eat and charge his phone so he could send his message out. But would anyone care?
Through the help of his family, he managed to post his videos about living on the abandoned ship.
Some had thought he had vanished or drowned at sea – never being told about the legal handcuffs. That’s when the international arguments started.
The company said they couldn’t do anything.
The Egyptian government said they wouldn’t. In the middle of it all sat a sick and starving Aisha – his only allies were the International Transport Workers Federation. He prayed every night they could save him.
The first ray of actual hope came when one of the ITWF’s members said he would sign a document that would make him legal guardian of the ship.
He would come with fresh supplies and fuel and find a way to deal with it. After four miserable years of being forgotten, Aisha would finally be able to go home! If the local government let him…
It was a heart-stopping snag.
And, for a few months, the local government refused to return his passport, even though all the necessary and legal steps had been taken. But, in the end, he felt the lifesaving document in his hands again. The ITWF also gave him more.
They paid for his flight home and medical treatment.
He sat on the plane, exhausted but anxious to get back to his family. He would hug them and never let them go. He would visit his mother’s grave and beg for forgiveness. But… when he had recovered, would he ever sail the ocean again?