Flotilla ship intercepted by coast guards 5Jul11 July 6, 2011

Aljazeera -  5 July 2011

A Canadian ship taking part in a planned aid flotilla to Gaza has been forced to return to harbour in Crete after an attempt to reach international waters was thwarted by coast guards, according to onboard activists.

Most of the vessels 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 before it was intercepted by coastguards, activists told Al Jazeera on Monday.

The boat, carrying activists from Canada, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland and Turkey, was forced to turn back to Aghios Nikolaos port in Crete.

“We are just being pulled into docks as we speak right now … [the coast guards] 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 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.”

The coast guard ship pursued the Tahrir, using water cannons and eventually boarding the ship, Rosenfeld said.

‘A quarter of the way’

Activists on the boat earlier 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 brought it 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.”

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.

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

‘Outsourcing’ the Israeli siege

Al Jazeera’s Jamal El-Shayal, reporting from Athens, where a number of boats are waiting to depart, said activists accused Greek authorities of participating in Israel’s blockade of Gaza

“This is now an outsourcing of the Israeli siege of the Palestinian territories to European countries, they say,” El-Shayal said.

Earlier on Monday, activists staged a “symbolic departure,” on the French boat, the Louise Michel, in defiance of the Greek ban, El-Shayal said.

Greek coastguard officials moved in swiftly to ask what the activists were carrying on board, but let the demonstration continue.

Activists from the impounded Audacity began a hunger-strike in front of the US embassy on Sunday to protest against the arrest of their captain, who was allegedly being held in “shocking conditions”. But they were quickly moved on by police.

French captain Alain Connan said he had decided not to set sail because he risked being slapped with a long prison sentence.


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