Crew of the Estelle, October 19, 2012. (Photo: ShiptoGazaSE/Facebook)
This morning at 10:15 am Jerusalem time masked Israeli commandos boarded the Estelle, a Gaza-bound aid ship, and rerouted the passenger vessel to Ashdod Port in Southern Israel. Dror Feiler a Swedish-Israeli representative on the Ship to Gaza Sweden said the ship was “attacked” while in international waters and was surrounded by six armed vessels. However Israeli authorities are disputing the location of the ship, contending it was within Israel’s marine space.
Unconfirmed photograph of the Estelle during the raid by the Israeli military [text on the original]. (Photo: ShiptoGazaSE/Facebook)
“Our cargo consists of footballs and cement and musical instruments and children’s books,” said Mikael Löfgren, a spokesperson for the Estelle who is unable to make contact with the aid ship at this time. Speaking to Al Jazeera English today Löfgren said he fears the passengers will be towed into the Israeli port without their consent and then charged with illegally entering the country, as was done in 2010 to passengers aboard the SV Mavi Marmara during a raid when Israeli soldiers killed nine peace activists.
The Israeli army confimed in a statement that the activists were being taken to an immigration facility at Ashdod but did not indicate if they would be criminally charged:
When the passengers made it clear that they would not cooperate or accept the invitation to sail to the Ashdod Port, it was decided to seize the vessel and lead it to the Ashdod Port.
Pre-recorded message from Jim Manly, former Canadian member of parliament and retired minister, released today on October 20, 2012 after organizers lost contact with the Estelle.
The Estelle, sailing under a Finnish flag, departed from Sweden earlier this year in June. Before heading for the besieged Gaza Strip the ship, carrying 3o international activists including members of European parliaments, stopped in 20 European ports that included cargo inspections.
In response to the raid of the aid ship, Israeli activists have gathered at the Ashdod Port to protest the Israeli military and the six-year siege of the Gaza Strip. For the latest updates from the Ship to Gaza Sweden see @ShiptoGazaSE.