One of the ten boats scheduled to travel to Gaza to bring much-needed humanitarian aid and support has had its captain arrested by Greek authorities after attempting to leave port yesterday.The US Boat, dubbed ‘The Audacity of Hope’, left the Greek harbor where it was stationed for the last two weeks after numerous delays and additional inspections on the boat ordered by the Israel Law Society. The captain and crew said that the boat had already been inspected and approved, and the additional inspection was politically motivated.
After five days of stalling, the Greek authorities produced the results of the inspection of the boat, which took place on Monday, June 27. The Greek government inspected the boat on the basis of an anonymous complaint alleging that the boat is not seaworthy. The anonymous complaint later turned out to have been filed by the Israel Law Center. The list of infractions cited on the inspection report included such things as technical details regarding the construction material of the hull and the fact that the private inspection report emailed to the authorities was unsigned. “None of these alleged infractions are actually regulations that boats are required to meet,” said group’s Greek lawyer Emmanuel Stephanakis. “It’s obvious that these are politically motivated, baseless charges calculated to stop the U.S. Boat to Gaza from sailing.”
Upon leaving port yesterday, the captain said that he expected to be arrested, but was willing to take that risk in order to reach Gaza and break the four-year long Israeli naval blockade. The US boat carries thousands of letters of love and support for the people of Gaza from people in the USA. Passengers on the US Boat include renowned author Alice Walker, 87-year old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, medics, journalists and aid workers.
The passengers hope to provide assistance to the civilian population of Gaza that continues to face fuel and food shortages, daily electricity blackouts, a lack of building materials to rebuild from Israel’s devastating 2008-9 assault, and a severe shortage of medicine and medical equipment.
The Captain has been charged with leaving port without permission and endangering the boat’s passengers (a felony charge). Passengers on the boat say the charges are without merit, adding that they all chose to take part in the flotilla, and the captain did not endanger their lives.
Yonatan Shapira, a crew member on The Audacity of Hope and former Israeli Air Force captain, said the captain of the U.S. Boat should be praised, not condemned for his actions. “The captain acted out of concern for the safety of the passengers and boat by taking us away from the Greek port where other flotilla boats are being sabotaged,” Shapira said.
After leaving port, the boat was surrounded by Greek Coast Guard boats filled with armed commandos, and escorted back to port, where it remains under armed guard and surrounded by barbed wire.