In 1967 a convoy of cargo ships from 8 countries, including Britain, were trapped in the Suez Canal during the Six Day War. They were to remain there for 8 years, becoming covered in windblown desert sand, giving them the nickname “The Yellow Fleet”. For the men involved this was an often dangerous but exciting time which many describe as the best of their sea-faring lives. Yet their stories have gone untold, until now.
Peter Flack was on the Agapenor, a ship heading for home with a cargo of plastic toys for Woolworths. It had been an ordinary sailing until the morning of June the 5th 1967. Peter was on deck when suddenly he saw Israeli jets streaking out of the rising sun towards Egypt. John Hughes was an electrician on another ship, The Melampus. He was at the top of a mast, fixing a light, when -glancing down- he saw Egyptian soldiers dug-in along the banks of the canal pointing their guns directly at him. Shortly after his speedy descent from the mast, the Israeli air-raid began. As his colleague, Graham McMorine, remembers the jets used the ships as cover, crossing the canal at mast height to bomb the Egyptian air-base.As the war continued, Egypt decided to close the Suez Canal. It remained closed even after the war ended, trapping the ships and their crew. After a while the men were allowed home and relief crews arrived. As the long war of attrition rumbled on, the sailors caught in the middle began to swap cargo and have parties. There were onboard football tournaments, archery, sprinting and water-skiing. Ships from east and west took part, despite the ongoing Cold War.
After a while the ships were abandoned, and covered in windblown desert sand becoming known as The Yellow Fleet.
Listen to the programme here