By Joseph Dana, +972 Magazine – 1 July 2011
Less than one hour after leaving the Athens port, the American ship in the Gaza flotilla was stopped by the Greek Coast Guard, which demanded it return to the port.
The boat, named the Audacity of Hope, left the Athens port at 16:30 en route to the Gaza Strip, carrying 35 passengers, five crew members and 11 journalists. It departed without permission from the Greek authorities to sail.
Former U.S. army colonel Anne Wright, leader of mission, told +972 soon after the ship set sail that it is “defiant in going to Gaza. Israeli and Greek won’t pressure won’t stop us.” Along with its 51 passengers, the ship is carrying letters for the people of Gaza. Israel’s Channel 1 TV looked though the entire boat before its departure.
A second international press conference was scheduled to be held at sea.
Last Friday, complaints filed by the Israel Law Center held up the U.S. boat in an Athens ports, and Greek authorities have still not given it permission to sail. Fed up with what they call Greek complicity with Israel, organizers have said that they have complied with all requests to inspect their vessel and its “seaworthiness.” They claim that the boat is seaworthy and that the pressure from the Greeks is politically motivated.
The captain told me in an interview from the wheelhouse that he expects to be arrested and personally fined for his actions, despite the fact that he claims to have done nothing wrong legally.
This public relations stunt will confirm or deny rumors that Israeli pressure on the Greek government has resulted in delays in the ship’s sailing. On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at an Israel Air Force academy ceremony, singled out the Greek prime minister in thanking world leaders assisting Israel in working to stop the flotilla.
Organizers are planning non-violent protests in Athens should their ship be boarded by Greek authorities. Local authorities are well aware of the organizers’ intentions and are amassing forces to disrupt the plans to sail. Greek coast guard ships are circling within eyesight from the coast.
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Joseph Dana is in Greece reporting for The Nation from the American ship to Gaza