In June 1967, the third Middle East war broke out. On June 5, after Israel launched a preemptive air strike, ground troops advanced all the way and arrived on the east bank of the Suez Canal on June 8 and occupied Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. In order to prevent the canal from being used by Israel, Egypt simply gritted its teeth and ordered the indefinite closure of the Suez Canal, sinking ships and even blowing up a bridge in the flight section to block the waterway. In addition, the Egyptian army also planted mines in the canal.
At this time, 15 foreign merchant ships from 8 countries were passing through the canal, including the United Kingdom, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the United States. Fourteen of the ships were forced to stop at the widest part of the Suez Canal, the Great Bitter Lake, while the American Merchant Marine Observer dropped anchor in Lake Timsach, 12 miles north.
At first, the crew thought that the chaos of the war would end soon, and that the war did only last for 6 days, but they did not expect that the Egyptian and Israeli sides would have reached a deadlock at both ends of the canal. The crew felt terrible. Fortunately, three months later, the crew was allowed to evacuate one after another. However, in order to protect the ships and cargo, each shipping company sends people on board to take care of them and rotate them regularly.
Looking after and maintaining the ship is a familiar way for the crew. Since there is nowhere to go and there is a lot of free time, they need to have some fun for themselves. Therefore, in October 1967, the crew of 14 ships abandoning nationality boundaries, gathered for a meeting on the British merchant ship “Morampus”, and decided to form the “Great Bitter Lake Association” to help each other. Because the deck is full of sand, they humorously refer to their ships as the “yellow fleet.”
Each ship has its own special responsibilities. For example, the Polish cargo ship functions as a post office, and the British who likes to play football are responsible for organizing the game. The location is in the “Yellow Fleet”, the largest British merchant ship in the “Yellow Fleet” “Invercargill Port”. Number on the deck. Those who want to swim can go to the Swedish merchant ship “Kilara”, and those who want to watch movies can go to the Bulgarian merchant ship “Vasily Levski”. On Sunday, those who want to worship can board the “North Wind” of the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1968, when the Mexico City Olympics were held, they even hosted the “Big Bitter Lake Mini Olympics.”
In addition to playing well, you have to eat more. In addition to picking local materials for daily meals on board, Egyptian merchants will also send some necessities. A system of bartering for goods has also been developed between ships. However, as the fuel on the ship ran out, the refrigerator could not be cooled, and the supplies gradually became tense. In addition, it is difficult to ensure safety between the Egyptian and Israeli guns on both sides of the canal. It is particularly necessary to reduce the number of crew. In 1969, the ships moved closer to further reduce the number of crew members who needed to stay on board for maintenance.
In 1972, the last group of German crew members stranded at sea were finally able to return home, and a Norwegian company replaced them with maintenance.
In 1973, Egypt launched the fourth Middle East war. During the war, the American merchant ship “African Valley” trapped in the Suez Canal was sunk. After international mediation, Egypt and Israel shook hands and made peace. In October, an international agreement was reached on the reopening of the Suez Canal. In 1974, the US, British and French navies cleared mines in the canal, provided Egyptian troops with training and assistance in removing explosives, and cleared away the obstacles to the reopening of the canal.
In early 1975, the canal that had been closed for 8 years was finally reopened. Most of the trapped merchant ships were towed away by tugboats because they lost power. Two Federal German ships successfully reached the Port of Hamburg with their own power.