That Time When the Suez Canal Became a Country

In 1967, 15 cargo ships full of young European and American sailors sailed through the Suez Canal – right in the middle of a war zone between Israel and Egypt. Unfortunately for the young sailors, who had nothing to do with the Middle East conflict, they found themselves smack dab in the middle… literally.

A solder looks out over the Suez Canal.
Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images

In fact, they were stuck there for eight long years. But they made lemonade out of lemons and turned their base into a sort of adult summer camp.

Caught in the Middle

The young men hosted BBQ parties, played cards, and created sailing races and water-skiing activities. They even started their own mini-Olympics (they called it the “Bitter Lake Olympic Games”!)

The men trapped in the canal play a game of soccer.
Source: YouTube

During those eight years, the Israeli and Egyptian armies battled against each other on the sides of the Suez Canal. By 1969, they reduced the number of crew members into several groups.

They Rotated Shifts

The crews rotated every three months so that the men could go home and visit their families. In 1972, the last members of the German ships were sent home, with Norwegian’s taking over as the last ones on board.

Men pose on the boat deck.
Source: Facebook

By 1975, the Suez Canal was opened for international transport. Come the 2010s and there was a newfound interest in this incident with multiple books being written about the eight-year event.

Despite All the War

Over those eight years, about 3,000 men, at one point or another, were stranded on those ships. For some of them, the experience was one of the most rewarding of their lives, despite the war that was ensuing around them.

Lifeboats moves between the ships.
Source: YouTube

“What was remarkable was the strong community these crews forged, even though they came from countries on opposing sides of the Cold War,” British author Cath Senker told Express News.