‘Hijacked’ vessel back from Libya

A Greek-owned cargo vessel returned to Piraeus from Libya yesterday morning with a group of foreign activists on board who, according to the ship’s owner, had tried to hijack the vessel and force the captain to take them to Gaza. A spokeswoman for Ionian Bridge Shipping Management denied reports that the aid workers, most of whom are British, had been held captive by the crew of the Strofades IV, which had been transporting vehicles to Libya. According to the official, Maria Georgoulia, the activists had tried to storm the ship in the Libyan port of Derna on Thursday. «We never intended to transport the activists because we realized that they wanted to lead the ship not to [the Egyptian port of] El Arish but Gaza, to break the embargo and pitch us against the Israeli navy,» Reuters quoted Georgoulia as saying. «We wanted to leave,» she said, stressing that the activists «are not on this ship against their will.» Her comments were a response to claims on Thursday by Road to Hope, a charity group trying to deliver supplies to Palestinians in Gaza, according to which the activists were being held hostage by the captain of the ship following a dispute over payment. Yesterday a member of the aid convoy told the Guardian newspaper that organizers had raised 75,000 US dollars (about 54,600 euros) to pay for the ship to take them to El Arish. Georgoulia told Reuters that there had been no deal with the activists. «There was never an agreement. They didn’t have documents showing they could travel with this ship. It would be illegal,» she said. According to the shipping firm, the captain of the Strofades IV had pulled away from the port of Derna on Thursday as a crowd of more than 100 activists had tried to board. The captain appealed to Libyan authorities for help and seven Libyan police officers boarded the vessel, according to the shipping firm. The 10 activists – seven Britons, two Irish people and an Algerian – and the Libyan officials were all «safe and sound,» police in Piraeus said yesterday.