Sunday, July 03, 2011

Audacity of Hope Stopped at Sea

The Audacity of Hope, engine chugging, free of its moorings, slipped from the dock. The gangway was hoisted to the cheers of the passengers as well as the land team and journalists dockside.

Finally, after a year of preparation we were underway. As we gently churned past the end of the dock and the large freighter docked to our starboard, the horizon broadened and i was shocked to see that no Coast Guard vessels were in sight. Could it be? Would we be allowed to pass? After weeks of warnings and bureaucratic delays we had determined it was best to challenge the Greek authorities. So on a quiet Friday afternoon, one week after being presented with a challenge regarding the seaworthiness of our ship, we decided to move.

As the numerous American flags flapped in the breeze and the boat cut through the calm seas, the smiles and laughter of the passengers belied the tensions of the prior days. But our relief was short lived. Less than 20 minutes out at sea i spotted a Greek Coast Guard vessel off our port side making a wide sweep and turning towards us. In a matter of minutes, it was alongside, demanding we turn back. When our captain continued, they passed in front of us, cutting off our path. Finding radio communications difficult, the 2 captains spoke directly to each other across the several meters of sea that separated us. It was clear that no matter what we said, we would not be allowed to continue. After a standoff of several hours the original Coast Guard vessel was joined by a zodiac with about 10 commandos. Our captain continued to argue that our vessel was sea worthy, all the inspections had been completed and we requested safe passage to international waters. The Greek captain insisted that we needed to return to port to get our documents in order and said, “you will leave tomorrow.”

Finally as our boat drifted perilously close to a reef and sunken boat, our captain relented. He would turn back after getting assurances that we would dock in a secure place. Little did he know that we would be directed to a naval dock. The Audacity of Hope now has zero chance of moving without Greek authorization. The next morning, rather than being allowed to leave, our captain was arrested and charged with several misdemeanors as well as a felony count- disturbing sea traffic- which includes endangering the lives of those on the ships.

The passengers were detained on the boat, but as the days wore on, we were allowed to come and go as we pleased, the port authority police easing up, recognizing we were no threat to them. Since our attempted departure Greek ministers have announced that no boats heading to Gaza will be permitted to depart from Greek waters. It is still unclear what this means. It is equally unclear as to how long our boats will be held. We remain strong and dedicated to the cause. Many of us are leaving over the coming days, but are already making plans to return once the boat is released. There is no talk of giving up, only a resolute sense of determination. One day the siege will be lifted. Gaza will be free.

See the Video: