A LETTER FROM MIKE SMITH IN THE MAY 2009 issue of Sea Breezes refers.
After a period of clashes over operation of the Suez Canal in the 1950's, the Egyptian Government took control of the canal and its tolls from about March of 1957. During this time there was a ban on Israeli ships, and any ships that had been to Israeli ports. Ships of this category could not use the Canal.
During the Arab- Israeli war of 1967 the Egyptians blockaded the Canal by mining and sinking block ships. Having corked the bottle at both ends, as it were, 14 ships were trapped in the Great Bitter Lakes, some 15 to 20 miles north of Suez, while a lone American ship was trapped in Lake Timsah near Ismailia, 9 miles further north. The ships were;
Nordwind, Munsterland, both German, Killara, Nippon, both Swedish, Essayons, Norwegian, Agapenor, Melampus, Scottish Star, Port Invercargill, all British, African Glen, American, Djakarta, Boleslaw Bierut, both Polish, Vassil Levsky, Bulgarian and Lednice, Czechoslovakian.
These ships and the lone US ship Observer, further North, were to remain imprisoned until May 1975, a total of 8 years. The ships in the Lakes formed The Great Bitter Lakes Association, to develop a common approach to their predicament, including producing a common postal system with stamps and franking. They also became known as the Yellow Fleet, due to their coloration, over time, by the sands of the deserts.
Only the Munsterland, and Nordwind, made it back to their homelands under their own power. They received a heroes welcome. Munsterland's round trip to Australia had taken 8 years, 3 months and 5 days. The two Blue Funnel ships were sold off to a Greek Agency, while the rest fared no better. The American ship of the Group of 14, African Glen, was sunk by gunfire.
For more letters, see the latest edition of Sea Breezes Magazine