Gaza aid flotilla unable to depart Turkey after Guinea-Bissau withdraws vessel flagging

Gaza aid flotilla unable to depart Turkey after Guinea-Bissau withdraws vessel flagging
Ann Wright, the primary organiser of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, at a press conference explaining why the ships couldn't sail. /
By bne IntelliNews April 28, 2024

A "freedom flotilla" formed to deliver aid to Gaza was on April 27 prevented from setting sail from Turkey after being denied the use of two of its ships after the West African country of Guinea-Bissau withdrew the flagging of the vessels.

Organisers of the mercy mission blamed the withdrawal on Israeli pressure put on Guinea-Bissau.

"Sadly, Guinea-Bissau has allowed itself to become complicit in Israel's deliberate starvation, illegal siege and genocide of Palestinians in Gaza," the Freedom Flotilla Coalition said in a statement.

It added: "The Guinea-Bissau International Ships Registry (GBISR), in a blatantly political move, informed the Freedom Flotilla Coalition that it had withdrawn the Guinea Bissau flag from two of the freedom flotilla’s ships, one of which is our cargo ship, already loaded with over 5,000 tons of life-saving aid."

The group added that the Guinea-Bissau authorities issued several "extraordinary" requests for information including destinations, potential additional port calls, cargo manifest, and estimated arrival dates and times. 

"Normally, national flagging authorities concern themselves only with safety and related standards on vessels bearing their flag," it said, saying the move was like being asked about destinations when registering a car.

AFP said that at an Istanbul press conference around 280 volunteers—made up of activists, lawyers and doctors—who were intending to join the ships shouted slogans including "Flag the flotilla", "We will sail" and "Free Palestine". 

Three of the flotilla's ships have been docked south of Istanbul for a week at the port of Tuzla.

In 2010, a previous "freedom flotilla" departed the southern Turkish city of Antalya for Gaza. However, Israeli commandos stormed one of the ships, the Mavi Marmara. Ten people were killed and 28 were wounded in the ensuing clash. The wounded included seven Israeli soldiers who were struck with clubs, knives and pipes. The incident soured relations between Turkey and Israel for years.

Ann Wright, of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the primary organiser of the coalition and a former US Army colonel who quit in 2003 citing her opposition to the Iraq invasion, told Middle East Eye earlier this month that the Freedom Flotilla Coalition was determined to achieve its mission.

"We know that the Turkish government is working hard diplomatically and in the humanitarian field. Yet, we expect their support and that of other governments for our mission," she said. 

"There is no way that we can't sail. There is no way that we can't reach Gaza," she added. 

Reflecting on the attack 14 years ago on the Mavi Marmara, Wright said: "In case of such an attack, we'll expect all governments to uphold international law. According to international law, Israel has no right to raid a ship filled with civilians and humanitarian aid."