Postage Stamps of the Yellow Fleet
January 13, 2009 6:14 PM   Subscribe

When it went to war with Israel in 1967, the Egyptian Government blockaded the Suez Canal. A number of ships, with their crews, were stranded in the Great Bitter Lake for the eight years it was closed. Here are their stamps.
posted by Fiasco da Gama (18 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I had absolutely no idea this happened. Thank you very much for this post, really amazingly interesting. I'm not a stamp collector, but I love reading about history, and wow. Again, I had no clue that ships were stranded for so long.
posted by Science! at 6:27 PM on January 13, 2009

yeah, this is great.
posted by Divine_Wino at 6:36 PM on January 13, 2009

You'd think the governments responsible for those ships would make some kind of effort to extract their crews. We had helicopters in 1967, after all.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:49 PM on January 13, 2009

WOW! This is the stuff that makes MeFi what it is. Actually go read the first link - the crews weren't stranded for seven years, just the ships.
posted by mwhybark at 6:59 PM on January 13, 2009

A 15th vessel was anchored in Lake Timsah, TT ‘Observer’, USA. Ship and crew were not part of the Great Bitter Lake Association.

Thereby hangs a tale, I bet.
posted by mwhybark at 7:02 PM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

And may I say, Fiasco da Gama, you nearly qualify as an eponystericist.
posted by mwhybark at 7:06 PM on January 13, 2009

This is a great post, thanks. I wish all my mail was sent from such places with such names and histories as the Great Bitter Lake and looked as interesting as this. I try tell myself that bills from the sub-basement of the Great Bitter Telecom are just as exciting, but, sigh, they just aren't.
posted by Staggering Jack at 7:07 PM on January 13, 2009

Wow, great story.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 7:10 PM on January 13, 2009

Great post, Fiasco da Gama. Thank you.
posted by Bummus at 7:51 PM on January 13, 2009

love random historical stories such as this one... thank you!!!
posted by ameca at 8:10 PM on January 13, 2009

Wow. See. Stranger things HAVE happened at sea. Or on a lake. Next to a canal. Or something.
posted by schwa at 8:16 PM on January 13, 2009

An historical footnote for the Americans: your President stopped at the same lake to meet the King of Saudi Arabia, on the way back from meeting Stalin at the Yalta conference, in 1945.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:19 PM on January 13, 2009

Great post, thanks!
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:27 PM on January 13, 2009

wow, that is just a fantastic story and piece of history - thanks so much for this post!
posted by lapolla at 2:19 AM on January 14, 2009

"A number of ships, with their crews"? Nowhere in any of this narrative does it say that any persons were "stuck" for the entire 8 years. Clearly, crew members left and were replaced. I very much doubt that any human being was literally on any of these ships, without ever departing, for eight years straight. The second link makes it clear that the ships had tiny skeleton crews in the end, so it's not as if any of this was akin to being held in an Austrian dungeon.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 7:33 AM on January 14, 2009

I suspect that the ship owners had to keep the ships continuously manned throughout, or risk having the ships taken by salvers as derelicts. (Which is exactly what they'd be, if unmanned.)

It does seem from a few of the links as though in some cases, ships were essentially turned over by the owners to their insurance companies, presumably at some kind of loss, so maybe some of the skeleton crews were there at the behest of the insurers.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:35 AM on January 14, 2009

Ethnomethodologist, you are quite right. The second sentence in my post is misleading; I merely meant that the crews were on the ships when the canal was blockaded.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 1:58 PM on January 14, 2009

What a superb post Fiasco da Gama. Just the marvelous kind of story that is a delightful discover. Something so creatively charming, poignant, rebellious, plaintive, innocent, mischievous, whimsical in those handmade stamps.

My dad sailed in his early 20's around the world on a schooner with three other guys his age, who all became my godfathers. The three godfathers sailed up the Suez Canal and one wrote a wonderful description of their passage up this ornery part of the planet in his book, On Wits and Wind.

Having read that book I can only imagine how hard it was for the sailors of those various stranded ships. And this story has so much romance to it. Graham McMorine's rugged sailor tone in the telling of his story is delightfully blunt, evocatively macho.

Some visuals of the Great Bitter Lake part of the Suez Canal. Apparently, the ships that got stuck during those years became known as the Yellow Fleet because of the increasing amounts of desert sand that lay on their decks.

Odd thing I learned reading about this story. The travel the fish do using the Suez Canal is given a special name, Lessepsian migration.

How excellent the ephemera of this story, the stamps, letters, stories can now be shared on the web for posterity. Thank you for this treat.
posted by nickyskye at 5:22 PM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

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