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Commentary

Bureaucratic Red Tape Kept Man Virtually Imprisoned on Lonely Ship for Years; Escape Attempts Ended with Police Putting Him Back on Boat

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Mohammad Aisha, a Syrian sailor, lived in misery for four years.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Aisha’s trouble began in May 2017 as a result of a dispute between the owner of the 330-foot-long MV Aman and Egyptian authorities.

“I don’t know how this happened to me,” Aisha told The Journal recently. “The world has been isolating, but I have been abandoned.”

According to the New York Post, the ship’s captain was running errands on shore and Aisha was doing repairs when a courier from an Egyptian court stormed the vessel, which was off the Egyptian coast.

The courier proclaimed the ship would be held until $21,500 in debt from a three-ton anchor purchased the previous year was paid.

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The ship’s captain advised Aisha, a 29-year-old who, despite only recently boarding was chief mate, to sign a letter designating himself as the vessel’s legal guardian.

Aisha dutifully complied.

“I had no idea it was the biggest mistake of my life,” he told The Journal.

In November 2017, Aisha called Baha Fadel El Alla, the ship’s agent, and asked to leave. Aisha was told that, as the ship’s legal guardian, he was required to stay indefinitely.

Has bureaucracy ever significantly harmed your life?

By August 2019, Aisha had been left alone on the ship as the crew members — totaling more than a dozen — quit one by one and returned home.

During his time on the vessel, Aisha’s mother and grandmother died without him there, he developed a serious illness — possibly scurvy — due to a lack of nutrition, the ship nearly sank, and he was subject to 10 days of intense interrogations by Egyptian authorities.

As any other reasonable person would do under the circumstances, Aisha tried to escape on numerous occasions, but police escorted him back each time. Because he was a Syrian citizen without a visa, Egypt did not allow him to enter the country.

Aisha even pleaded with Egyptian authorities to send him to jail, even though he had done nothing wrong.

I would too, if I were in that situation. Prison would be better than being alone and undernourished on a ship not fit for human habitation.

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The ship’s agent supplied Aisha with food and fuel, but the products got smaller and less frequent as time went on, according to The Journal, which added that Aisha had only a few pieces of dried bread to eat on some days.

Mohamed Kamel, a retired sailor, was brought on to guard the ship and keep an eye on Aisha.

“At the beginning I was sharp with him, professional,” Kamel told the outlet. “But when I saw what he was going through, he only had my sympathy.”

Fortunately, the International Transport Workers’ Federation stepped in on Aisha’s behalf last month. After years of misery, Aisha finally is free and can return home to Syria.

“Mr Aisha is free because the ITF offered to have one of its union representatives in Egypt take Mr Aisha’s place and become the legal guardian of the vessel,” the organization said.

The union said the ship had no power and was infested with insects and rodents.

Aisha’s feelings toward the bureaucrats and shipmates who kept him locked in hell are less than warm.

“I will never forgive the people who kept me here while I lost my family, one by one,” Aisha said.

But where was the ship’s owner in all of this — the man who could have set Aisha free from the get-go?

He stopped returning any calls from those under him in late 2019.

Crewmen and the ship’s agent identified Youssif bin Sanad as the ship’s owner. When The Wall Street Journal called Sanad, he claimed that, as opposed to being the ship’s owner, he was the commercial manager for Tylos Shipping & Marine Services. He also declined to say who the owners of his company were.

All in all, the entire situation highlights the consequences of endless bureaucracy and bad policy. When institutional controls exist for the sake of existing rather than for the common good, that control is capable of causing great suffering to innocent parties.

While Aisha lost a part of his life that he can never regain, I hope he is able to find some peace.

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Garion Frankel is the senior policy advisor for the Texas Federation of College Republicans. He enjoys and has published articles and academic works on public policy, philosophy and political theory.
Garion Frankel is the senior policy advisor for the Texas Federation of College Republicans. He enjoys and has published articles and academic works on public policy, philosophy and political theory.
Languages Spoken
English, some Spanish




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