We are tied up in port, in a different place than the marina where we spent the last several days, after making a break for the sea yesterday afternoon. It was quite amazing that we were able to get out of the marina at all as we had to back out, and there was a coast guard boat right next to us, with its bow pointed at our stern (and our bow pointed in toward other boats in the marina).
How we did it: two brave souls from among our number set out in kayaks right in front of the coast guard boat, finally grabbing on to the boat itself. Because of the law that prevents a motorized boat from cutting into the path of an unmotorized boat, they were helpless for several minutes by which time we had backed out and were on our way out into the harbour. We had a good race out to the sea, it was very exciting. We dropped nets down each side to protect against being knocked overboard and installed doors either side of the wheelhouse, to slow down access for the coast guard, who were heavily armed but actually fairly gentle. I would call them ‘gentle pirates’ because they boarded our boat illegally. Our Greek captain could not take the boat out because of the potential consequences for the crew here in Greece so a phantom captain managed to get us launched out into the open sea, where the boat was put on autopilot. Therefore we hope no one will be charged for taking the boat out.
Right now we are all doing statements, basically our names and addresses, and our statements which are ‘no comment.’ We don’t know yet but I suspect no one who was on the Tahrir will be charged. However Sandra Ruch, the nominal owner of the boat (sole director of the corporation that owns the Tahrir) has been charged, along with the two brave souls who took the kayaks out. Their trial will be tomorrow, and we are told their charges are minor, however Sandra’s charge is more serious.
It has been very exciting and heartening to see how the boats have responded (and are still responding) to the barring of our boats from our trip to Gaza by Greek authorities. The U.S. delegates started a hunger strike outside the U.S. embassy after first making a run for it a few days ago. Their captain, an American, is in jail. (just learned that he has now been released without charges). The Spanish delegates occupied the Spanish embassy in Athens today and have hoisted the Palestinian flag there.
There seems to have been extensive coverage of our efforts due in large measure to the crew of media that we have on our boat. Our Turkish correspondent, Kenan was first to post video from yesterday’s boat action and it was shown worldwide. I hope you got to see something of our few minutes of freedom!
Amira Hass from Ha’aretz is posting a story daily from our boat, also stories are going to the Toronto Star daily by Jim Rankin (and a blog and photo gallery on-line) also Al Jazeera is getting updates, rabble.ca, and many other reporters are getting regular news through calls to the boat.
As far as life on the boat, it has been a communal experience par excellence. We have a cook who has been feeding us through thick and thin, even bringing water up to us when we were being occupied by inspectors who wanted to take our papers (on Canada Day, leading to our march and rally through town). We have shared the boat chores and created banners, and have invented chants in all our different languages. We have learned to say good morning and ‘stay human’ the flotilla theme in many languages, in Algonquin you would say ‘Anishnabe Debwewin.’ We have been a strong team together through the heat and the stress and creative through the challenges that have come our way. Now we are united in our continued occupation of the boat.
When we were pulled in yesterday we were rammed by the (large) tug boat and it caused a diesel tank to rupture and spill diesel (into the bilge, not into the harbour, thankfully). There was some concern that we were taking on water and would sink and we all got ready to evacuate. But we didn’t need to do so as there was no water leak. We stayed on the boat and chanted and sang for hours last night, and there was a group of local supporters on shore who at one point did a sit-in in support. Several of them slept on the dock all night long, and others offered to bring us food.
We also had two members of our group who stayed on shore to provide support. We did not have generator power on board last night so they took cell phones and computers in for charging — and probably sent an update to our family and friends list.
Last night there was a strong smell of diesel on the boat (inside the cabin) but with the windows and doors open, and the tank having emptied, it has dissipated. This morning several of us formed a work crew to clean the boat, including all the toilets, swabbing the decks and so on, while others made coffee and tea for all.
The port authorities want us off the boat but we were told that legally we are in a better position on the boat, so we have stayed here, using the propane tanks to cook and the generator power to get the computers back on line and the fridge and lights functioning too. Last night the army stopped us from using the generator but today it seems they don’t care. They need to go through the motions with us then hopefully all will be released. We have already lost the CBC crew, Alexandra Schatzka and cameraman, and today our Pravda reporter has headed home. We still have Jim Rankin and Amira Hass.
When it’s been quieter on board we’ve done other actions including a seminar with Bob Lovelace, for about an hour and a half, stories from the history of the Algonquin. And we also set up an opportunity to film the postcards and letters that we’ve brought with us for people in Gaza (some of them) so that this video can be sent to Gaza given that our postcards are not likely to reach them very soon. It is good to be able to share with others here the support from people back home. Jim Rankin also took a photo of the cards. The banner ‘Canada – Gaza’ with the maple leaf, fleur de lis and native healing circle (four directions), along with other decorative banners have made us quite a sight in town, and hopefully around the world. We do hope that the message is getting out about the blockade of Gaza, through the stories of our being blockaded here in the harbours of Greece.