Foreign Ministry denies Irish claim of flotilla sabotage

Irish activists say Israel sabotaged their ship; gov't in Athens prohibits vessels with Greek, foreign flags from departing from Greece to Gaza; US boat 'Audacity of Hope' turned back shortly after embarking.

US boat to Gaza flotilla 'Audacity of Hope' 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/John Kolesidis)
US boat to Gaza flotilla 'Audacity of Hope' 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/John Kolesidis)
Israel was not behind the engine damage caused to an Irish ship participating in the Gaza-bound flotilla, Foreign Ministry officials said on Saturday. The foreign ministry added that activists must feel they are in a "James Bond film."
Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News reported Friday that the damage caused to the Irish ship might not be a result of sabotage at all. According to the report, investigations have also revealed that the ship was damaged before it entered Turkish waters.
RELATED:PM: Israel fully entitled to stop 'arms-smuggling flotilla''Hamas leader is brain behind Dutch flotilla'Last week, Saoirse, one of ten ships set to sail in the mass movement to break the Gaza sea blockade, was docked in Turkish waters when it sustained engine damage. Fintan Lane, coordinator of the Irish Ship to Gaza organization, called the act "dangerous sabotage" and said the ship he believed divers had worked underwater to cut a piece of the propeller shaft.The damage sustained by the Irish liner caused organizers to pull the vessel out the flotilla.
The controversy surrounding the Saoirse is only the latest in a number of developments that have caused the new flotilla difficulty in setting sail.
On Friday,
the Greek Ministry of Citizen Protection issued a statement saying that  the Minister, C. Papoutsis, decided to prohibit the departure of ships flying either Greek or foreign flags "to the maritime area" of Gaza.
"By orders of the Hellenic Coast Guard Head Quarters to all local Hellenic Coast Guard Authorities, all appropriate measures are taken for the implementation of the said decision," the statement said.
The Greek ministry said that the "broader maritime area of eastern Mediterranean will be continuously monitored by electronic means for tracking, where applicable, the movements of the ships allegedly participating" in the Gaza flotilla.
While Cyprus had already banned ships headed for Gaza from leaving their ports, the Greeks had not taken this measure until Friday.
The Greek Coast Guard intercepted a boat carrying US activists soon after they set sail from Greece on Friday to join a pro-Palestinian flotilla to Gaza, one of the activists said.
Late Friday evening, the US boat slated to participate in the Gaza flotilla, The Audacity of Hope, turned back to a Greek port after it was intercepted by Greek commandos Friday evening, organizers said through their Twitter feed. The boat was brought under Coast Guard escort to a closed Coast Guard base in Greece.
The boat had just left Perama port, near Piraeus, for the open seas, a Reuters witness said.
Minutes before initially being intercepted, organizers said that the ship's passengers were preparing to "non-violently resist any efforts to stop the boat," saying moments later that the boat "is about to set sail," followed by a message saying that the ship had departed. Through the boat's twitter feed, organizers said that a Greek Coast Guard vessel approached The Audacity of Hope as it was pulling away from the dock but then sped away.
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A flotilla of boats planning to challenge Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip is expected to sail next week, after repeated delays that activists blame on Israeli sabotage. Israel has denied the accusations.
"We are just here, two miles off Piraeus. We've been stopped by the coastguard, their ship maneuvered in front of us and they are now talking to the captain, they want us to turn around," Ann Wright, one of the activists, told Reuters.
"We are non-violent, we pose no threat," she added, saying that the group was informed of the sailing ban just as it was setting off.
It was not immediately clear how the boat's departure would affect the overall flotilla plans.