07.01.2011 | +972 Magazine

The ship’s organizers had decided to sail without permission from the Greek authorities, claiming delays in its departure were politically motivated. Earlier, Greece issued a blanket ban on all ships sailing to Gaza from its ports.

By Joseph Dana, Friday 1 July 2011

The Greek Coast Guard intercepted the Gaza flotilla’s American ship this afternoon, less than one hour after it had set sail from the Athens port. The Greek authorities demanded the boat return to the port, resulting in a protracted standoff at sea, with the captain of the U.S. boat in talks with the authorities over their demands. After a couple hours, and under the threat of an armed takeover by the Greek authorities, the boat agreed to be escorted back to land. It arrived at the Athens coast guard port at roughly 8.30 PM local time.

It emerged that just before the boat had set sail, Greece issued a blanket ban on ships sailing to Gaza from its ports. According to the decision, approved by Minister for Citizen Protection Christos Papoutsis, the “broader maritime area of eastern Mediterranean will be continuously monitored by electronic means for tracking, where applicable, the movements of the ships allegedly participating in such campaign” [to sail to Gaza].

The boat, named the Audacity of Hope, left the Athens port at 16:30 en route to the Gaza Strip, carrying 35 passengers, five crew members and 11 journalists. It departed without permission from the Greek authorities to sail.

Former U.S. Army colonel Anne Wright, leader of mission, told +972 soon after the ship set sail that it is “defiant in going to Gaza. Israeli and Greek won’t pressure won’t stop us.” Along with its 51 passengers, the ship is carrying letters for the people of Gaza. Israel’s Channel 1 TV looked though the entire boat before its departure.

Around the time the American boat was stopped by the Greek coast guard, the organizers of the Canadian ship said in a Twitter message that they are being help at port by the Greek authorities:

ALERT: Greek authorities preventing Canadian Boat and #Flotilla2 from sailing. Israeli blockade of Gaza reaches shores of Greece.

Last Friday, complaints filed by the Israel Law Center held up the U.S. boat in an Athens ports, and Greek authorities have still not given it permission to sail. Fed up with what they call Greek complicity with Israel, organizers have said that they have complied with all requests to inspect their vessel and its “seaworthiness.” They claim that the boat is seaworthy and that the pressure from the Greeks is politically motivated.

The captain told me in an interview from the wheelhouse that he expects to be arrested and personally fined for his actions, despite the fact that he claims to have done nothing wrong legally.

This public relations stunt will confirm or deny rumors that Israeli pressure on the Greek government has resulted in delays in the ship’s sailing. On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at an Israel Air Force academy ceremony, singled out the Greek prime minister in thanking world leaders assisting Israel in working to stop the flotilla.

Organizers are planning non-violent protests in Athens should their ship be boarded by Greek authorities. Local authorities are well aware of the organizers’ intentions and are amassing forces to disrupt the plans to sail. Greek coast guard ships are circling within eyesight from the coast.

For more live updates please check out my twitter feed: @ibnezra.

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