#Flotilla2 | Hunt for ship’s captain as Canadians linked to Gaza flotilla arrested


Published On Tue Jul 05 2011|  thestar.com
Delegates from Canada, Australia, Belgium, Denmark and Turkey meet with lawyers Tuesday aboard the Tahrir, the Canadian boat participating in Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza.

Delegates from Canada, Australia, Belgium, Denmark and Turkey meet with lawyers Tuesday aboard the Tahrir, the Canadian boat participating in Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza.


Jim Rankin Staff Reporter

AGIOS NIKOLAOS, GREECE—Canadians and others aboard the Tahrir — the Canadian boat impounded after making a run for Gaza — gave statements but little information to Greek port authorities in a hunt for who was behind the wheel.

Three others — Torontonian Sandra Ruch, 50, Soha Kneen, 40, of Ottawa, and Aussie Michael Coleman — were released from jail Tuesday but will appear in court Wednesday, facing charges related to a clever getaway plan that ended with Greek commandos taking the ship.

Kneen and Coleman are charged with obstructing the vessel, a relatively minor crime.

Ruch, who lived in Greece for several months preparing for the flotilla, is charged with more serious offences related to sailing without permission. She was not on the boat when it made its run Monday but represents the company that owns the boat.

“They are felony and criminal charges, which I am proud to accept,” said Ruch.

Other than name, citizenship and address, all aboard the 25-metre converted day-tripper agreed not to say a word more in an investigation aimed at determining who was in control Monday.

In a statement, the Canadian boat organizers demanded Greek authorities pay for damage — including a cracked fuel tank and scraped hull — caused while the ship was being brought back to port.

Greek authorities ordered the ship, with no passengers on board, moved to a marina and several delegates bid farewell, their window of making the trip to Gaza having closed and the chances of another attempt slim.

Twenty-two delegates are from Canada. The remaining 17 are from Australia, Belgium, Denmark and Turkey. There are also eight journalists from six countries who faced similar questioning.

The Tahrir was boarded and commandeered within a half-hour of leaving port here in Agios Nikolaos on the island of Crete, defying a Greek government edict banning ships participating in Freedom Flotilla II from heading for Gaza.

There was no one in the wheelhouse when the commandos boarded the Tahrir, travelling at full throttle and on autopilot, in high swells.

Thus the hunt for the captain.

A Greek captain hired for the trip was not on the ship, fearing serious repercussions if he broke the edict. Neither was there any Greek crew.

Continuing demands for answers were met with humour; all of the delegates claimed to be captain, albeit unofficially. Then they offered up a name: Mr. Northstar, which is the brand name of the autopilot system.

The Tahrir was towed back to port Monday and spent a day with no power to run refrigerators, satellite internet equipment and laptops. The toilets also would not flush.

On Tuesday, defying port orders not to fire up an onboard generator, the delegates did just that and port authorities did not prevent it from powering the boat.

“Power to the people,” David Heap, a linguistics and French professor at the University of Western Ontario and part of the boat’s steering committee, said during a briefing on board.

Boat lawyers said that there was a chance that if the investigation led to no one being identified as pilot, all aboard would be free to leave the ship, which they did Tuesday night.

Organizers say the Greeks — facing an economic crisis — bowed to Israeli pressure to block flotilla effort to break the sea blockade of Gaza and deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinians living there.

A French boat that was the only “safe” ship of the up to nine boats that intended to sail was reported to have turned around Tuesday and headed for home. A subsequent report said it hit international waters and was headed for Gaza.

It may be all alone.

Last year, in a similar effort, nine activists were killed by Israeli forces a takedown of the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship. Officer opened fire after a boarding attempt was met with active resistance.


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