Irish ship joins flotilla in bid to break Gaza blockade


AN IRISH ship, the MV Saoirse, yesterday entered international waters en route to Gaza as part of a joint Irish-Canadian effort to break Israel’s naval blockade of the territory.

Those participating in the two-vessel flotilla hope to reach Gaza on Friday, Dr Fintan Lane, co-ordinator of the Irish Ship to Gaza organisation, told The Irish Times.

“These ships are sailing as an act of human solidarity with the ordinary people of Gaza and we are determined to breach the illegal Israeli naval blockade,” Dr Lane said. “There is huge support in Ireland for the Palestinian people and the Saoirseis a tangible expression of that goodwill.”

The flotilla left the Turkish port of Fethiye at around midday yesterday and entered international waters some two hours later. Organisers said the flotilla was followed closely by Turkish coastguards until it left Turkish waters.

The Irish boat is the same vessel activists alleged was sabotaged during a failed bid to breach the blockade in June. Its journey was cut short when its propeller shaft was discovered to be damaged at port in Turkey.

The 14 Irish citizens on board this time include Dr Lane, former Leinster and Ireland rugby player Trevor Hogan, Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy, former Fianna Fáil TD Chris Andrews, Siptu official Mags O’Brien, artist Felim Egan, People Before Profit councillor in Dún Laoghaire Hugh Lewis, Sinn Féin councillors Pat Fitzgerald and John Hearne, both from Waterford City Council, and Zoe Lawlor, who teaches at the University of Limerick and is a member of the national committee of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign. The MV Saoirseis captained by a Greek national. The Canadian boat, named Tahrir(Liberation) is carrying 12 people.

Israel has described previous flotillas as a “dangerous provocation”, and has warned it will intercept any ships that attempt to break its blockade of Gaza.

In May 2010, Israeli commandos raided a Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, which was sailing as part of an international flotilla to Gaza. Nine Turkish activists were killed.

An Israeli official said yesterday the flotilla would not be allowed to reach its destination. “They will not be allowed to breach the blockade,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He would not say what measures would be taken to stop the two ships, but confirmed Israel knew they were heading for Gaza’s shores.