in the Suez Canal
Please note: some people thought I was exaggerating how badly the power structure of Egypt was treating its people. They could not believe that I said the powerful, unfiltered things I did in Red Sea Run. Now, of course, the whole world knows of which I spoke. And the good people of Egypt have risen up and thrown some (but not all) of their oppressors out of power. We applaud them... admire their bravery... and will suspend our personal, private campaign to draw attention to the tryants who were in charge... until further notice.
I, like many sailors, prefer to be apolitical. If something bad happens to me, I just shrug it off and think to myself, “This too shall pass.”
Plus, who am I to judge? In essence, I avoid the political soapbox as much as possible.
However, there are occasionally things which happen which are so bizarre, so corrupt, so evil, and so obviously wrong… that any reasonable, sane person has to speak out.
The systemic corruption of the Suez Canal is a perfect example. If I went through the Suez Canal and didn’t speak out—I’d feel I sold out. So here goes…
The Suez Canal Authority (the people who administer and run the Suez Canal) are—in my humble, private opinion—a criminal gang of corrupt thugs who exist only to rip off the people of Egypt and the international maritime community on a daily basis.
Yes, strong words.
In case I wasn’t clear enough, I’ll rephrase it another way: the ship’s agents, measurers, pilots, and pilot boat drivers are engaged in a continuing criminal enterprise to shake down the transiting vessels AND steal the resulting money from the very mouths of their deserving fellow citizens.
I know this to be a fact. I’ve witnessed it with my own eyes many times. And thus I must speak out because, for great crimes to be committed, all it takes is for the citizenry to be silent.
I am not going to remain silent. I am not going to forget. I’m not going to ignore it because it is behind me. In fact, I am going to do everything possible to shine a bright cleansing light into the contemptible, corrupt dealings of the Suez Canal agents, measurers, pilots, and pilot boat drivers.
Am I going to be able to change Egypt? No. But, perhaps, the next time a greedy pilot nonchalantly threatens to ram and severely damage your vessel if you don’t pay them a bigger bribe… just maybe that criminal thug will think… “Gee, maybe there will be a price to pay… a personal cost… to shaking down innocent people in this manner. Maybe these people aren’t so powerless… maybe this could come back on me in a negative way… maybe it could come back to haunt me…”
Right now, they have no shame. None. They operate completely openly—and without the slightest thought or consideration there might be legal, social or moral repercussions to their criminal actions.
The bottom line is this: I, like most of the yachtsmen who transit the Suez Canal, would like to just forget how badly I was treated and how I was ripped off… but I just can’t.
Their international lawlessness is just too blatant.
I have a pen. I must use it.
The people of Egypt and the rest of the world need to know what the Suez Canal Authority is up to. Justice will ultimately be done, but only if the victims speak.
This webpage is one place they will be heard.
Our #2 Suez pilot was Nasser. He started off okay, but soon became avarice. He wasn't content with his $20 bribe. He demanded sunglasses, T-shirts, shoes, cigarettes, and our expensive binoculars. Finally, we had to order him off the boat when he started demanding additional bribes for the pilot boat drivers as well as himself.
Note: I transited the Suez Canal in late April, 2010. Unfortunately, a friend of mine had a heart attack and thus I returned for a second transit in May 2010. (The Suez canal is enough to give anyone a heart attack.)
Both times I experienced rampant, system-wide corrupt almost beyond belief.
In addition to my own first-person experience, I have informally interviewed 50+ people about their recent transits.
While some had a great time and some had a horrible time—not one said they went through without feeling they were being ripped off by the agent or the measurer or the pilot or all three.
Take Rudy on the Swiss-registered Shiva, for example—he was astounded when his pilot threatened to have his pick up boat ram Rudy’s vessel if he didn’t pay far more “…baksheesh.” (Lucky for Rudy, this was an idle threat.)
The same thing happened to the German Bavaria 38 Blue Pearl—and when the threat was ignored, this time the vessel WAS intentionally struck by the pilot boat… in full view of all the commercial ship’s traffic of Port Said.
The pilots WANT this incident widely publicized—just like the mafia wants people to know when they break knee caps… it makes victims that much quicker and more eager to pay the bribes.
After my pilot left Wild Card, the people on the pilot boat acted outraged that I hadn’t paid an additional bribe to them too—and that I thought I could get away with only paying a $20 bribe to my pilot. So they ran alongside, getting closer and closer… yelling ‘baksheesh’ like demented, spoiled children… in an attempt to intimidate me.
I was not intimidated.
So they turned quickly to port—which made the starboard knuckle of their transom swing into and over Wild Card.
Luckily, I was ready for just such an occurrence and managed to fend them off without damage… but, as any sailor knows, this is a risky and potentially dangerous situation.
Vessel safety isn’t the sole issue here. When bad boys start intimidating people with multi-ton floating objects, people can die.
In the following months and years, I’ll be compiling a lot of information on the Suez Canal Authority. Much of it will be positive because not all the employees are thugs. For instance, our first pilot (Mohamed Hemdan)on Wild Card was as nice as could be… it was the second one (Nasser Mohand Aprahim) who grew increasing avarice throughout the day and demanded money, cigarettes, clothes, shoes, and, finally, our Fujinon binoculars!
So if you have a Suez Canal transit story, be it positive or negative, which you’d like to share—please post it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks. And stay tuned. There will be more to come…
…remember: when you are in the Suez Canal, you are at their mercy. But once out of Egypt, you are not. The internet exists, it is free, and it is difficult to censor… so it is a very powerful tool to fight governmental corruption. Your solitary voice can be heard worldwide—and the yachtsmen behind you next season might not have to endure the rips offs, bribes and physical threats you did.
(end above, begin new)
The following is an open letter written by Tom Sampson about his experience with an agent of the Suez Canal Authority. Tom is a man of integrity, who I’ve personally sailed with and can vouch for.
I have produced below the notes on a horror story I sent to noonsite for publication. They declined because Capt Hebe's response refuted all. Nevertheless what I have written is an accurate account of what happened.
I have canvassed about 30 yachts who did the transit and many like ourselves had no problems. Others had problems with Felix and I had unbelievable problems on my second transit as written below.
Since noonsite are unable to publish I am hopeful that you will forward this email to all your yachting contacts and that they in turn do so and so on.
Robert Zbigniew of Shirena suffered a heart attack whilst in Ismalia on the Suez canal on 9th May. His wife contacted me for help and advice. I subsequently flew to Egypt with Fatty Goodlander of Wild Card to bring Shirena to Ashkelon because Robert was very concerned that Ismalia was not a safe haven for any length of time. His illness was serious and when he was well enough, he planned to fly to Austria for surgery.
His agent in Ismalia demanded an additional $544 and a bond of $600 (Robert had already paid the standard agent fee of $84 and all canal charges) in return he promised that all the paperwork necessary to allow me to take the boat to Ashkelon would be completed by Friday 14th May. I know of no other yacht that has had to give a bond of any amount. The bond is to be returned at the end of July, nearly 3 months after it was taken.
We were ready to leave with a pilot at 0800 on the 14th. No pilot came and at 1100 the agent told us that we couldn't transit that day because warships were in the canal (No yachts can transit if there are warships doing so)
We were again ready to leave at 0800 on Saturday 15th May. The agent arrived on time, the pilot did not. The agent said he had some paperwork to complete with the Suez Canal authorities (SCA). We had been cleared to leave on the Friday but it seems additional paperwork was required a day later.
At 1000 Robert was told by the agent that he was required at the SCA offices: he was of course in bed and not fit to travel anywhere. Nevertheless he and Tina went to the offices with all the ship's papers but did not meet anyone there except the agent.
We were then advised that we (myself and Fatty) could not take the boat through the canal to Port Said, only Robert could do so. No one except the agent was able to meet with anyone in authority and so we never knew what was behind this decision. Tina had been visited by SCA personnel some days before and they said they would clear the boat but expressed surprise when she advised them that the agent was doing so and had been paid $544 and a bond of $600.
A very seriously ill man together with a naturally distraught wife then took the boat with a pilot to Port Said, a 7 hour journey.
On arrival at Port Said the pilot was given his "present" of $20 (twice the going rate) but then hassled Robert for more!! The agent did nothing but I naturally intervened and the pilot departed in haste.
I then had to fill in numerous forms and write numerous letters and was still doing so on the ferry to the immigration offices. Robert was now suffering chest pains; Tina, a nurse gave him medication which helped. The agent did not accompany us but stayed in the car with Robert and Tina, it was the Port Said marina manager and someone else who had taken control. We went to the immigration offices but were not allowed to see anyone. The agent arrived after negotiations had been completed and returned our passports.
Robert and Tina were then taken by the agent to Cairo and after 2 days they flew to Austria. He remains in a serious condition and is currently too ill to fly to Australia. We were able to leave at 2300 and Shirena is now safe in Ashkelon, Israel
I subsequently discovered that the agent Robert had engaged had little authority in Ismalia and Port Said, Who the agent knows and what influence he can exert is crucial to successful negotiations. Moreover, it is a fact of life in Egypt that "Baksheesh" is a controlling issue. The Felix Maritime agency do, apparently, have contacts in both Ismalia and Port Said and it was suggested to me that they been used then this sorry saga might not have occurred.
The bottom line was that Robert's agent took the money, did not achieve what he promised to do and was complicit in forcing a seriously ill man, who had suffered a heart attack only 4 days earlier, to sail 44nms up the Suez Canal.
My advice to others transiting the Suez Canal is that they should give serious consideration to the agency they use. Another agent could not possibly have done any worse and might conceivably have done a better job.
The agent Robert used was The Prince of the Red Sea and these notes have been revised to take account of the comments received from the agent after seeing the original submission.
23 May 2010
(end of Tom’s letter)
Heebi, the Prince of the Red Sea, is on the far right. His helper, Sayeed, is in the middle.
This is Fatty again. I also used Heebi, the Prince of the Red Sea, as my agent while transiting the Suez Canal. I found him to be dishonest, corrupt, and a blatant liar. I do NOT recommend him.
I don’t know if Felix is any better. While they pretend to be in direct competition, there are many indications they are ‘thick as thieves’ as the saying goes.
There are dozens of reasons why to avoid Heebi, the Prince of the Red Sea. Here’s just one of them: when my friend Robert was having a heart attack, Heebi demanded a special refundable ‘bond’ be paid to him directly. He claimed that this ‘security bond’ had to be paid to transfer crew, and that it would be returned immediately after the transit. Immediately after the transit, I demanded it be repaid. (Robert was chewing on his nitro pills and clutching his chest, and was in no condition to negotiate.) Heebi acted insulted and said, “Let’s not hassle about it right now. I’ll electronically wire it back to Robert tomorrow.”
That was in May of 2010. This is late October of 2010. Heebi, Prince of the Red Sea, has been contacted dozens of times and has promised to return the money dozens of time… but only returns excuses.
The money STILL has not been returned. I suspect it never will be. Heebi, Prince of the Red Sea, isn’t a ship's agent or a businessman, he is a criminal thug who knowingly, intentionally steals money.
That’s strong language. He deserves it. I have no vested interest here. The sea gypsy in me wants to just forget about Egypt and its strong-arm men. But, alas, I can not. Good people are following in my wake. Somebody has to do something. The first thing we can do as a marine community is to let the bastards know we are watching them, that there IS or MAY BE some legal, social or business repercussions as a result of their blatant criminal acts.
Cap’n Fatty Goodlander
S/V Wild Card
Tags: Red Sea transit, Suez Canal navigation, Port Suez Yacht Club YC, Ismailia, bribery, marine, yachting, boating, criminal, governmental corruption, international trade, freighters, container ships, international shipping, ship’s agents, Goodlander, All at Sea, Cruising World, Cap’n Fatty
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