The Irish ship MV Saoirse is en route to the Gaza strip as part of its latest relief mission and has already reached international waters in the Mediterranean Sea.
The vessel is joined by the Canadian boat Tahrir as part of a two-boat flotilla, which is due to sail from the international waters directly to Gaza, avoiding Israeli territorial waters.
The two civilian vessels are carrying 27 humanitarian activists from nine countries. However, Israel has vowed to block the vessels from reaching Gaza, on which it is imposing a military blockade.
Organisers say this is the 11th attempt to bring aid to Gaza via the sea but only five previous missions arrived safely. All of the others were intercepted by Israeli military.
The MV Saoirse was sabotaged, apparently by Israeli commandoes, while docked in a port in Turkey in June. It has been under repair ever since and about 140,000 euro has been raised by the Irish Ship to Gaza organisation to fund the latest journey.
Passengers on board the two vessels say they hope to reach the shores of Gaza in a couple of days.
“The only obstacles in our way are Israel’s military,” the group, which is comprised of Irish, Canadian, Australian, American, Greek, Palestinian, Polish and Egyptian activists, say.
“The Freedom Waves to Gaza emerged from the Freedom Flotilla initiatives,” said organiser Fintan Lane from on board the ship.
“While the Freedom Waves to Gaza will be delivering some much-needed medicines, our primary goal is to help free Palestinians from their inhumane isolation in what is in effect an open air prison.”
However, Al Jazeera television is reporting that Israel’s navy has said it will attempt to stop the two boats, by force if necessary.
Israeli commandos killed nine activists in a Gaza-bound flotilla last year as they seized control of the ship to enforce Israel’s blockade.
“Theses ships are sailing as an act of human solidarity with the ordinary people of Gaza and we are determined to breach the illegal Israeli naval blockade,” Dr Lane said.
The 15 passengers on board the MV Saoirse include Dr Lane, former Leinster and Ireland rugby player Trevor Hogan, Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy, former Fianna Fail TD Chris Andrews, Siptu official Mags O’Brien, artist Felim Egan, People Before Profit councillor in Dun Laoghaire Hugh Lewis, Sinn Fein councillors Pat Fitzgerald and John Hearne, both from Waterford City Council, and Zoe Lawlor of the national committee of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
The Canadian boat, named Tahrir, the Arabic word for liberation, is carrying 12 people.