Calls for Israel to explain damage to aid ship 'Saoirse'


THE ISRAELI ambassador, Mr Boaz Modai, should be "called in" by the Government to explain how an Irish-owned ship, due to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza, was damaged, a number of TDs have said.

The MV Saoirse, which was to take part in the "Freedom Flotilla 2" bringing medical aid and sports equipment to Gaza, was deemed unfit to sail after damage to its propeller shaft was discovered on Monday evening. The ship had been berthed in the Turkish coastal town of Gocek.

Claudia Saba, a Palestinian living in Ireland, who has been involved in co-ordinating the flotilla, showed pictures of the damaged propeller shaft at a press conference in Dublin yesterday. The shaft appeared to be bent and to have had a piece cut from it.

Quoting Pat Fitzgerald, a fisherman based in Dunmore East, Co Waterford, who is in Turkey and had been planning to sail on the Saoirse, she said the damage done "could not have been accidental".

Almost identical damage was done to the propeller shaft of a Swedish boat, the Juliano, docked at Piraeus in Greece, which was also due to sail to Gaza. Pictures of this damage were also shown, which was described by Ms Saba as "too much a coincidence".

"Had they [ the Irish] gone out to sea, the pressure would have flooded the engine room," she said. "It was not damaged in such a way as to prevent it setting sail. It was damaged so it would fail at sea."

In a statement, the co-ordinator of the Irish Ship to Gaza campaign, Dr Fintan Lane, said the alleged "act of sabotage" was an appalling attack that should be condemned. He said Israel was the "only likely party to have carried out this reckless action".

A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Dublin, however, said Israel had no information about what happened to the ship.

"We are not connected to it in any way. We have heard about it in the media like anyone else," the spokesman said.

"We again reiterate that we welcome any aid that Irish citizens may wish to donate to the Palestinian people and we will gladly help pass it to Gaza through the regular land crossings.

"We further wish to repeat what the United Nations data clearly shows: there has never been hunger in Gaza, there is no humanitarian crisis there.

"However, Israel together with the international community will continue to work to further improve conditions in Gaza despite Hamas's violent disregard for the needs of the people in Gaza and in southern Israel."

Rejecting these denials as implausible, Richard Boyd Barrett of the United Left Alliance said the "sabotage" was an "absolute outrage".

Independent TD Mick Wallace said the Government should call Mr Modai to account for the damage to the Saoirse. Joe Higgins (ULA) said: "The Irish Government must make an international issue of this and call in the Israeli ambassador . . ."

Making similar calls were Joan Collins (ULA), Clare Daly (ULA) and Thomas Pringle (Independent).

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore raised the incident with an Israeli government delegation yesterday.

This followed a meeting with department officials on a Palestinian motion coming before the UN in the autumn which will seek international recognition of the Palestinian state.

Earlier Mr Gilmore said the incident was "going to have to be investigated initially by the Turkish authorities and I will take a very serious view of it if turns out that there was sabotage".