The Last Time Suez Ships Got Stuck, They Were Trapped For Eight Years
One of this year's funniest and weirdest stories was that of the Ever Given, the colossal container ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal. It lay stuck, while hilariously tiny diggers tried to clear the way for its escape. It did finally get out, after a tense six days.
Six days was also the length of the Six-Day War, an Arab-Israeli conflict back in 1967. But that short war shut the Suez Canal down for a lot longer than six days. It stayed sealed off for eight years. And 15 ships were stuck in the canal throughout that entire time.
Egypt sealed off the canal on both ends, by scuttling ships, sinking a bridge, and dumping thousands of mines. The goal was to keep Israel from using the canal and attacking Egypt that way, and the unintentional victims in all this were the 15 ships—two American ones, and 13 from across Europe. The sailors there weren't going to starve to death or anything, as Egypt kept sending them supplies and the crews got to rotate out and get replaced, but the ships were still stranded in place, year after year.
The ships became known as the yellow fleet, as yellow Egyptian sand soon coated them. The sailors themselves, however, called their coalition of eight nations The Great Bitter Lake Association, after the part of the canal where the parked. Each ship contributed something to the association. One ship had a pool. One had a movie theater. One Polish ship opened a post office—the fleet made their own stamps, which other countries recognized.
Finally, in 1974, the US led an effort to clear the mines and the other wreckage and reopen the canal. The sailors all got to at last leave, and while most of the ships were no longer seaworthy, two German ones were able to sail again and complete their voyages. When they docked back in Germany, tens of thousands of fans were there to cheer.
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Top image: Yellow Vertex/Wiki Commons