Tuesday 16 January 2018

Greece frees two Irish aid workers in ship row

Patricia McDonagh

TWO Irish nationals who had been detained by Greek officials after a dispute on a ship carrying aid for Gaza were freed yesterday and told they could return to Ireland.

Ken O'Keefe and David Callander were charged with causing minor disturbance and damage to the Greek-owned cargo ship they travelled on last week.

The two men were later released by Greek authorities and provided with emergency travel documents by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

However, it is thought they may continue with their mission to bring aid to Palestinians in Gaza rather than returning home. The two men were part of a group of 55 aid activists who were travelling to Gaza with supplies as part of the "Road to Hope" convoy.

The group had chartered a boat to bring them from the Libyan port of Derna to a port in Egypt.

After docking it was then planned that they would continue their trip to Gaza by land.

They planned to drive to the Rafah crossing, which is on the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, and continue on to Gaza.

According to the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), Mr Callander and Mr O'Keefe had been loading cargo on to the boat chartered for the journey, the Strofades IV, at the port of Derna when it suddenly set sail with them on board.

Eight other aid activists -- seven British nationals and an Algerian -- were also on board when the ship broke its moorings and left the rest of the aid group behind.

Ship managers Ionian Bridge Ship Management claim the activists jumped on board, and that the captain set sail to Greece as he was afraid more would come on and divert the ship straight to Gaza.

However, this has been denied by Mr Callander who also claims that when the ship eventually docked at the Greek port of Piraeus, a team of up to 60 commandos boarded and held all of the aid activists at gunpoint against their will.

The Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday confirmed Mr Callander and Mr O'Keefe were freed by Greek authorities after being charged.

"Both men have been released. They have been charged with minor disturbance and damage on the ship," he said.


"The department has provided them with consular assistance and emergency passports to allow them to travel."

However, last night it was unclear if the two men will be returning to Ireland or continue their mission.

Mr O'Keefe, who served as a US marine but whose grandmother is from Kerry, was on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara aid ship last May when it was targeted by Israeli forces.

Ten people were killed during the incident about 90km from the coast of Gaza as the Turkish ship tried to deliver an aid cargo there.

A Greek lawyer is acting on behalf of the men and it is understood such a minor charge could be adjudicated on by a magistrate if they are out of the country.

Irish Independent

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