Tricolour on ship delays Gaza aid mission
Published 14/05/2010 | 05:00
OWNERS of an aid ship bound for Gaza were forced to repaint part of the vessel yesterday after authorities prevented it from leaving port with a huge tricolour emblazoned on its side.
"I hope the paint I bought is seaworthy," said Derek Graham of Friends of Gaza which owns the 'Rachel Corrie'.
The ship is due arrive in the troubled Gaza Strip next month with a cargo of toys, food and medicine.
Mr Graham was told it could not leave Dundalk Port while the tricolour was painted on its sides.
The flag breached the Mercantile Marine Act 1955 because the ship could be perceived to be Irish when it was, in fact, Cambodian registered.
He said it was his idea to paint the sides in the Irish colours "because in World War II it was done to show that the vessel was from a neutral country.
"This aid is coming from a neutral country to help people who need it. I also thought it might help the Irish economy by promoting Ireland in the Middle East."
The boat was detained last July at Dundalk Port by officials from the Department of Transport amid safety concerns and the International Transport Federation (ITF) union became involved in looking after the welfare of the crew who had not been paid.
Then known as the MV Linda, the boat was sold at auction in March to the Free Gaza movement.
Yesterday a spokeswoman for the Department of Transport confirmed a port state control officer from the Marine Survey Office had re-inspected the vessel and that the flag was in direct contravention of the legislation as it was not an Irish vessel.
Last night local customs officers were to confirm all the Irish markings had been removed and that the vessel had been given clearance to leave Dundalk to begin its journey to Gaza.