The Great Bitter Lake Association

The Last Time the Suez Canal Was Blocked a Utopian Communist Micronation Was Formed at Sea

The last time ships got stuck in the Suez Canal, they were there for eight years. From 1967 to 1975, in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, 14 ships were stranded in the Great Bitter Lake, a salt lake connected to the canal. Unable to leave, the crews, dubbed the "Yellow Fleet" because of the desert sand that eventually covered them, developed their own society at sea. This society developed its own postal service and stamps, and held a version of the Olympics in 1968.
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The world was less connected in 1967 than it is today. The ships had access to radios and were able to call home, but Egyptian authorities eventually asked them to stop. As the crisis wore on, the Canadian government negotiated the exchange of crews from the ships. Supplies came in from Egypt, some sailors went home and others stayed on, but Egypt would not allow the ships to leave the canal.

Over the next eight years, a weird system developed. The companies that owned the ships were allowed to cycle crews through the ships, maintaining skeleton crews to keep them afloat, but weren’t allowed to sail the ships out of the canal. As time passed, the ships communicated with each other and grew into a community. They formed the Great Bitter Lake Association to administer to the needs of the crew.

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