A man claiming to be an Australian lost at sea will be transferred to Israel's immigration police for questioning, hours after he was rescued from the sea Monday on a homemade boat carrying no identification papers.
The Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv said the man was not Australian and that it had no idea what his true identity is.
A Haifa police spokesman told The Jerusalem Post Monday that this was the third time the mystery man, who told the Israel Navy his name was "George Haggard," has had a run-in with the law. The man had been rescued at sea in 2002 by the French Navy and was taken to France for treatment, according to the spokesman. The man reportedly told French authorities he was Australian, but when Australian authorities in France could find no record of the man, he was deported.
Haggard surfaced again in June, 2009, when he arrived in Cyprus on a boat carrying no identification papers and was not allowed to enter the country. He then allegedly sailed to Greece, where he presented himself as an Australian citizen seeking refuge. Australian authorities in Greece were also unable to find any record of the man and promptly deported him.
Early Monday morning, Haggard was rescued off the coast near Acre after the Israel Navy received a distress call from a cargo ship that reported spotting another vessel nearby that was in distress.
OC Navy Admiral Eli Marom immediately dispatched the INS Sufa, a Sa'ar 4.5-class missile ship on maneuvers nearby, to locate and rescue the man. The INS Sufa located the ship and evacuated the man to Rambam Hospital in Haifa.
The hospital said the man was in healthy condition on Monday and was expected to be released Tuesday. The Haifa police spokesman said that after his discharge from the hospital, the man would be sent to the Israel Police's Oz Immigration task force for investigation on Tuesday morning, and was expected to be deported shortly thereafter.
The spokesperson added that George's boat was taken in for an examination by police. When asked if there was suspicion he may have been smuggling drugs, the spokesperson said "it's possible, [but] it's also possible he's just insane."
After his rescue Monday, Haggard told the Navy that he had begun his journey in France, sailed to Turkey, Cyprus, and then a week ago had set sail for Port Said in Egypt, where he planned to cross the Suez Canal on his way back to Australia.
He was reportedly under sail on Friday when he encountered a severe storm that capsized his ship. He told the Navy officers that his mast had been broken, his GPS lost and that he was adrift for two days before being able to right his vessel on Monday morning.
The INS Sufa located the ship some 25 km. off the Haifa coast. Haggard was found in moderate condition suffering from hypothermia caused by the two days he had spent in the water. He was hailed and asked to empty out his bag to ensure he was not hiding an explosive device before being approached. According to navy personnel, he was extremely grateful for being rescued.
"He kissed us and saluted and said he would write a book and dedicate it to the Israeli Navy," a senior officer from the INS Sufa said.
The incident came only two days after the Israel Navy rescued five Ukrainian sailors, whose ship sank off the Lebanese coast. On Sunday, the sailors rescued by IAF search and rescue teams flew back home after being treated at Rambam Hospital. In a dramatic video released by the IDF spokesman's office on Sunday, the IAF helicopter crew is seen circling around an area of the Mediterranean Sea close to where the Salla 2 went under. At one point, a voice is heard yelling, "We found one," after one of the sailors was spotted in the water.
Members of the IAF's elite 669 search and rescue team rappelled down into the water and pulled the five sailors up into the helicopter.