“Medical supplies being loaded into the MV Rachel Corrie, which was named after a 23-year-old American killed in Gaza in 2003. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA”
The final boat in the Gaza aid flotilla was sailing at full speed towards the territory’s coast tonight despite warnings that it would be intercepted by Israeli forces.
The MV Rachel Corrie, a 40-year-old cargo ship bought by the Irish arm of the Free Gaza Movement, was delayed and avoided capture during Monday night’s assault. Tonight it was still in international waters about two days from Gaza, carrying a consignment of aid and 19 activists and crew, among them five Irish nationals, the organisation said.
The Irish taoiseach, Brian Cowen, warned Israel tonight that he expected no violence against those on the Rachel Corrie.
“If any harm comes to any of our citizens it will have the most serious consequences,” he said, calling on Israel to guarantee the vessel safe passage through the military blockade of Gaza.
The ship, named after the 23-year-old American killed in Gaza in 2003 while trying to prevent an Israeli bulldozer demolishing a Palestinian home, had halted in the Mediterranean following the assault while those on board – among them the Nobel peace laureate Máiread Maguire and Denis Halliday, a retired senior UN diplomat – discussed whether they should continue.
It was now carrying as a “second wave” of the flotilla, said Niamh Moloughney, who organised the sailing in Ireland.
“I’d say the mood on board is resilient and steadfast. When people signed up to this they knew what might happen,” said Moloughney. “We expected we would be confronted and there would be a stand-off, but no one expected this. But there’s never really been a question of the boat turning back.”
As well as the Irish nationals, the 1,200-tonne boat is carrying six Malaysians and eight crew of varying nationalities.
All those on board had received training in non-violent resistance before the sailing and had pledged not to fight back if the boat was boarded, Moloughney added.
Speaking on the boat’s satellite phone, Maguire said she was determined the boat should continue on its course.
“We’re not frightened, no, we hope the Israeli government will allow us to go freely in and we know the international community are calling for our safe passage,” she said.
Halliday said he had spoken to Ireland’s foreign minister, Micheál Martin. “He was very reassuring that the government was behind us and he gave us a complete green light to do what we’re doing and he’ll protect us as much as he can,” Halliday said.
Martin himself told parliament: “We will be watching this situation very closely – as indeed will the world – and it is imperative that Israel avoid any action which leads to further bloodshed.”
It appeared clear, however, that Israel planned to stop the ship.
The country’s military was carrying out “professional investigations” into what happened in Monday’s raid, an Israeli marine lieutenant, who was not identified, told Israel’s Army Radio. He added: “And we will also be ready for the Rachel Corrie.”The boat, which was bought at auction by the Free Gaza Movement after being impounded a year before in Dundalk, is carrying a consignment including medical equipment, wheelchairs, school supplies and cement, according to the organisation.