Flotilla ship ‘boarded by Greek coast guards’ 4Jul11 July 5, 2011

Aljazeera -  4 July 2011

A Canadian boat taking part in a planned aid flotilla to Gaza has been boarded by Greek coast guards after attempting to break out of Crete harbour, according to activists aboard the vessel.

Most of the boats which hoped to sail to Gaza in an effort to break Israel’s blockade of the Palestinian territory have been stuck in Greek ports after being refused permission to embark on the journey by Greek authorities.

The Tahrir sailed 15 minutes out of harbour in an attempt to reach international waters before it was intercepted by coastguards, activists told Al Jazeera.

“We are just being pulled into docks as we speak right now … [the coast guard] are in complete control of the boat,” Jesse Rosenfeld, a reporter with Toronto’s Now Magazine who was on board the Tahrir when it set sail, told Al Jazeera.

Rosenfeld explained how the vessel managed to momentarily leave port: “In a matter of minutes, the people on the boat turned on the engines while two of the activists kayaked, trying to block the coast guard in port. At that point, The Tahrir made an open break through the port, shooting for international waters.

“At which point the coast guard launched a chase after it, after pulling numerous free manouvers trying to cut if off from the front and the back, using water cannons along the side of the boat. Eventually they boarded the boat from the back,” he said.

Al Jazeera’s Jamal El-Shayal, reported from Athens, where a number of boats are waiting to depart as part of the aid flotilla. He said “[activists] are saying that the Greek authorities are now partaking in what they call Israel’s siege on Gaza, and that this is now an outsourcing of the Israeli siege of the Palestinian territories to European countries”.

‘A quarter of the way’

Earlier, activists on the boat spoke to Al Jazeera as it was being boarded by members of the Greek coast guard.

“Some of the Greek coast guard have boarded and are trying to take control of the vessel,” Dylan Penner, a member of the steering committee of the boat, told Al Jazeera while the boat was still sailing away from the harbour.

“We’re about 15 minutes out of port, and still under power. We are still moving forward. We still have control of the Tahrir.”

But members of the coast guard promptly took control of the vessel and are currently bringing it back to port, Penner said.

“We were going 15 knots for 15 minutes, attempting to reach international waters that are 95km from the coast,” Penner said. “I  estimate that we made it a quarter of the way.”

The coast guard boat was parked near the marina guarding the Tahrir, Penner said: “We saw a window of opportunity and took it by using kayakers to block the coast guard. But eventually the coast guard ship caught up with us, and launched a Zodiak from which we were boarded.”

On Friday the US boat, The Audacity of Hope, left port, only to be blocked by the coast guard, who towed the ship back to port, where it is being detained. The captain of that boat was jailed and charged with a felony.

Earlier, David Heap, aboard the Tahrir, said that preventing the boats from sailing was a “clear violation” of human rights.

“The Tahrir is leaving port in Crete, and we are breaking through Israel’s Gaza blockade which now extends to Greek ports,” Heap said.

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