In May 2017, the MV Aman was detained at the mouth of the Suez Canal over an unsettled debt of $21,500. Chief Mate Mohammad Aisha has been trapped on the cargo ship ever since. As second in command, the Captain of the MV Aman convinced Aisha he should sign a letter taking responsibility for the ship’s care. It was a move Aisha told the Wall Street Journal was the biggest mistake of his life.
Aisha’s situation spiraled from there after the ship was seized at the port of Adabiya, Egypt:
To the Egyptian court, Mr. Aisha was the crew member responsible for manning a vessel that couldn’t budge until all claims against it were settled. To the immigration office, he lacked the paperwork to come ashore. To his own government, he was another among the millions of Syrians stuck outside their country’s borders.
“I don’t know how this happened to me,” he said in a recent interview. “The world has been isolating, but I have been abandoned.”
Nearly 1,000 sailors were abandoned at sea last year, according to the International Maritime Organization, which tracks such data. The true toll is likely much higher, said Jan de Boer, a senior IMO legal officer. “We only see the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “And we see a lot.”
Can you imagine your employer just dropping you in the middle of nowhere because it’s better for the books? (Of course you can, capitalism doesn’t care about you or anyone else.) Whole countries, corporations and insurance companies are all able to wash their hands of these sailors’ fates. In fact, the owner of the MV Aman is wondering why no one is considering how difficult the situation has been on him:
The MV Aman’s crew and agent said the ship was owned by Youssif bin Sanad. Reached by phone in Bahrain, Mr. bin Sanad said he isn’t the owner, but the former commercial manager for a now-bankrupt company, Tylos Shipping & Marine Services, whose owners he declined to identify. He declined to discuss the specifics of Mr. Aisha’s case.
“It’s taken a personal toll on me as well,” he said, adding that Mr. Aisha shouldn’t have signed the letter designating himself as the legal guardian. Later, Mr. bin Sanad sent a WhatsApp message saying he wouldn’t comment further.
The modern world runs on such massive shipping operations, yet the folks who run these ships have very little in the way of protection. There was a Maritime Labor Convention backed by the United Nations and signed in 2013, but many middle eastern countries refused to sign it, including Egypt and Bahrain, the country the MV Aman sails under.
The rest of the crew slowly walked away from the MV Aman when it became apparent that their back wages were not forthcoming. The last crew member disembarked in 2019 to run errands and phoned Aisha to say he wasn’t coming back. Since then, Aisha has walked the creaking, deteriorating vessel alone.
While Ashia is now free after intense legal wrangling and political pressure, he’ll never get those four years of his life back. His struggle to get off of the MV Aman (which he eventually did just a few weeks ago) is detailed in the WSJ story and is well worth a read though, fair warning, it is equal parts infuriating and heartbreaking.