Someone had to be blamed for steering one of the world’s largest container ships into the banks of the Suez Canal and blocking it for six days, so why not a woman?
Fortunately there was such a woman in Egypt, though not on that ship at the time, but on another one several hours away in the port of Alexandria. That didn’t cut any ice with all those chauvinists who believed no man could be stupid enough not to keep his ship on a straight course.
So the grounding of the Ever Given had to be the fault of Marwa Elselehdar, Egypt’s first and only lady ship’s captain. She must have been waving to camels in the adjacent desert instead of looking dead ahead. Or worse, powdering her nose at the time. Perhaps she was too short to see over the mountain of containers between her and the ship’s bows.
Understandably Captain Elselehdar denied any hand in the accident, but her online detractors remained unconvinced. You can’t argue with someone who refuses to be confused by the facts.
The facts were that at the time the massive ship was under the guidance of two canal pilots, both male. Maybe they gave conflicting advice to the skipper, also male. “Steer left,” said one.
“Keep straight,” ordered the other. And the flustered helmsman (male) veered right (or starboard, as we say in nautical circles).
A ships’ tracking device showed that the Ever Given took a “meandering route” before entering the canal. Did it continue meandering a bit afterwards?
Only the official inquiry will determine what really caused the vessel to dig its bulbous bow into one bank and bury its propellers into the other. But what a witness did report it doing was nip in ahead of another ship, the Maersk-owned Denver.
“They cut us off this morning,” reported one of the Denver’s engineers. “The ship behind us lost power and almost hit us, so it’s been a fun day.”
And here’s the crunch. The engineer concerned was Julianne Cona, a woman. So a woman was involved, albeit as a spectator.
And she had the nerve to laugh at the menfolk’s multi-billion dollar cock-up.
Anything that happens to the canal is of particular interest to us at the Cape, because this is where many hundreds of ships head whenever Suez is blocked.
Table Bay had its heyday after the Six-Day War in 1967 when Egypt blocked both ends of the canal and for the next eight years the only sea route between the East and Europe was round the Cape. Month after month 20 or 30 ships lay anchored in the bay waiting to enter the harbour or be re-provisioned by launch.
Gerry Ferry had just been elected mayor and was to become one of the most popular first citizens Cape Town ever had. He would literally stand at the docks welcoming the new arrivals, intensely aware of the business and trade they brought to his beloved city.
I got to know him well. A craggy bear of a man, he ran a foundry in Woodstock, with his office up a flight of steps enabling him to keep an eye on all the welding and hammering in the yard below. He would invite me, a young reporter up, and then ask: “How am I doing?” Invariably I would reply: “Very well, Mr Mayor.” And still seeking reassurance he would say: “You think so?”
The present occupier of the mayoral chair, Dan Plato, and the city itself, could do with a bonanza like the one Gerry enjoyed. Just a pity those males responsible for blocking the canal didn’t do a better job of it.
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