Excavator operator’s heroism goes unrewarded

Excavator operator helping free ship blocking Suez Canal

Business Insider India reported on how excavator operator Abdullah Abdul-Gawad risked his life and worked 21-hour days to free the Ever Given, the skyscraper-sized container ship stuck in the Suez Canal.

Then Abdul-Gawad was not only virtually ignored, but at the time of writing had not received his overtime pay..

Describing the scene that faced him at work [on March 23], Abdul-Gawad told Insider it was “really quite something.” “It was awe-inspiring,” he said.

The 28-year-old, who has been operating excavators since university, said he and his colleagues worked 21-hour days, barely sleeping – and still had not received their overtime pay.

Freeing the Ever Given was an international effort, with winches, dredgers, tugboats, and excavators all brought in.

But Abdul-Gawad was the man who was literally at the rock face of the problem. Once he got to the base of the ship, there was no choice but to start digging.

In his estimation, the Ever Given’s bow was lodged about six meters, or 20 feet, higher than where the ship ought to have been floating.  Its stern was also sitting on the opposite bank, and the sideways ship was blocking all traffic.

To approach the base of the vessel, he built a makeshift “bridge” from rubble he dug up, allowing him to get closer.

The image of the little excavator gave the world unparalleled meme fodder, but for Abdul-Gawad the situation was far less funny – it was dangerous.  Under the looming sides of the ship, he feared destabilizing the ship and having it topple onto him.

“The thing is, I was terrified that the ship might list too far to one side or the other,” he said. “Because if it fell onto its side on me, then it’s goodbye me, and goodbye excavator.

“If you see the size of the ship and you see the size of the excavator, it is absolutely terrifying.”

Two more excavators arrived at the scene … … , but their drivers were too apprehensive to do what Abdul-Gawad was doing, he said.  Instead, they cleared away the materials near the base after he had dug it out.

Driving the excavator in his flip-flops, Abdul-Gawad undertook hours of digging.

This would be followed by half-hour bursts of the tugboats making an attempt to pull the vessel, when Abdul-Gawad and his machine would get a walkie-talkie signal to retreat.

“But, you know, until I got five, six meters down, there was no movement,” he said.

By the second day, memes of his excavator – based on an image circulated by the Suez Canal Authority – flooded his social-media feeds.

“And that was what made me so determined,” he continued. “I was like, you know, you’re making fun of me.  So I’m absolutely going to prove that I can do this.”

But it was by no means clear he could.  “It can’t really be funny to me because I didn’t know whether this ship was going to come out or not, and I was in the middle of the situation,” he said.  It became a personal mission.

“So I was feeling like, instead of mocking, you might actually do something to help me believe that I’m going to be able to get this ship out,” he added.

As the days wore on, Abdul-Gawad said, he and his colleagues grabbed brief moments of rest in a barracks used by border guards working nearby.

“They knew that if we went home, they wouldn’t see hide nor hair of us for another eight or nine hours,” he said.

At most, he said they got about three hours of sleep a night, and one night took only one hour.

On Thursday March 25, a specialized dredger boat – the Mashhour – joined the efforts.  Abdul-Gawad’s job was to shift rock and sand material from the ship’s bow while the Mashhour dislodged the silt from the canal bed, he said.

The combined effort – with the help of a high tide – gave hopeful signs the next day, and finally succeeded on March 29.   Ever Given’s release set every worker cheering – and tugboats honking – in celebration.

A celebration ceremony was held for all the Suez Canal Authority big shots, he said.  He was told of it 90 minutes ahead of time and it was four hours travel time away, so he didn’t go.  Nevertheless, he said, he takes pride in what he did.

Lloyds of London estimates that blockage of the Suez Canal cost world commerce about $400 million an hour, or just under $5 billion a day.  If Abdul-Gawad and his fellow excavators had been given million-dollar bonuses, it would have been a small fraction of the economic value of their work.

This is all too typical.  Some people do the work, others reap the rewards and take the the credit.


The guy driving the Suez Canal excavator says he got by on three hours of sleep a night and hasn’t been paid his overtime yet by Mia Jankoswicz for Business Insider India.

Suez Canal blockage is delaying an estimated $400 million an hour in goods by Lori Ann LaRocco for CNBC.

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One Response to “Excavator operator’s heroism goes unrewarded”

  1. Word from the Dark Side – Mexican marvel, married women’s secret desire, marred martyr and many, many pairs of stolen undies | SovietMen Says:

    […] The unsung hero of the Suez Canal: […]


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