Gaza bound Irish ship takeover 'was violent and dangerous' say crew

Sun, 06/11/2011 - 14:57 -- Editor

Irish activists onboard the MV Saoirse bound for Gaza were tasered by Israeli forces as they took their ship, according to reports from the scene.

27 activists, including Strabane artist Felim Egan, were detained by Israeli forces after they interceepted the Gaza-bound ship the MV Saoirse on which they were travelling.

Mr Egan's ship was boarded by the Israeli Navy on Friday. The crew were taken to Israel for security checks.

One crew member sent this report from the ship to Newswire.

“The takeover of the MV Saoirse was violent and dangerous," he said. "Despite very clear protests from the occupants of the two boats that they did not want to be taken to Israel, they were forcibly removed from the boats in a violent manner. The whole takeover took about three hours.

"It began with Israeli forces hosing down the boats with high pressure hoses and pointing guns at the passengers through the windows. I was hosed down the stairs of the boat. Windows were smashed and the bridge of the boat nearly caught fire. The boats were corralled to such an extent that the two boats, the Saoirse and the Tahrir, collided with each other and were damaged, with most of the damage happening to the MV Saoirse. The boats nearly sank.

"The method used in the takeover was dangerous to human life. The Israeli forces initially wanted to leave the boats at sea, but the abductees demanded that they not be left to float at sea, for they would have been lost and possibly sunk. All belongings of the passengers and crew were taken from them and they still do not know if and what they will get back. The 14 Irish citizens remain in Givon prison."

Sinead MacLochlainn,  National Chair Irish Ship to Gaza Committee, says anyone with regard for human rights should immediately contact their elected representative and call for action.

“The Israeli forces acted with complete disregard for Human life never mind human rights," she said.  "Please contact your local elected representative and the Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore – tell them about this act of piracy and tell them that we expect our colleagues to be treated properly from here on in and for their speedy and safe release from this illegal custody.”“I also want to commend the hostages for their courage and steadfastness and congratulate them for establishing their political prisoner committee which succeeded in winning important concessions from the Zionist authorities,”"Prisoners were abused and tasered by Israeli Commandos as their boat was seized," she said. "This is a serious development and Sinn Fein’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson Padraig MacLochlainn TD is currently speaking to the Irish Foreign Ministry to seek clarification from our prisoners directly as to whether any of them were tasered or otherwise injured by Israeli forces."

In total 27 peace activists - the crew of the MV Saoirse plus Canadian vessel Al-Tahrir - were undergoing security checks at Ashdod port last night and would then be held at a detention facility before being taken to Ben Gurion international airport to be put on flights home. The Israeli authorities said those who refuse to leave the country voluntarily would have access to a lawyer and 72 hours to appeal being sent home.

The Irish embassy was in touch with the Israeli authorities throughout the day over the welfare of the Irish nationals and was assured that all of them were safe.The Israeli military said no one was hurt when naval commandos boarded the Irish MV Saoirse and the Canadian vessel Al-Tahrir after the captains refused repeated requests to turn around. A military spokesman said the boats were in international waters in the Mediterranean sea when they were stopped, between 40 and 60 miles from the coast.

Israel imposed a maritime blockade on the Gaza strip in 2007 after Hamas came to power. It claims the restrictions are necessary to stop weapons reaching militant groups.In May 2010 Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship, the flagship vessel of a flotilla trying to reach Gaza, and killed nine Turkish Islamic activists, some of them armed with clubs and knives.