Investigation: the interview with the Captain of the Mavi Marmara

Here are extended excerpts of an interview with Mahmut Tural, Captain of The Mavi Marmara, about the Israeli Naval assault on the Freedom Flotilla that took place just before dawn on the 31st of May.

The interview was posted on 16 June on the website of the Turkish relief organization IHH, which had chartered the Mavi Marmara for the planned excursion to Gaza.

The interview was apparently conducted by IHH.

Here are excerpts from what Captain Tural had to say, prompted by questions from an interviewer:

“The ships of the convoy gathered in south of Cyprus and sailed on at 4 p.m. on the 30th of May, 2010. The ships were sailing together as a convoy. Our first contact with the Israeli navy was at 10.30 p.m.. They inquired about the ship’s registration details, then they said that Gaza is blockaded area and requested us to change our route. At the time of these calls we were sailing in international waters, around 75 miles off the Israeli coast, in route 222. We were completely away from Israeli territorial waters and heading towards southwest. We told them that we were in international waters and they have no right to request us to change our route.

Q: Were you able to see the Israeli warships?

“No. Israeli ships were not in visible distance yet, but I could guess that they were military warships from the radar echoes which came from 3-4 miles away. Around 11.30 p.m. we changed our route to 185. Our aim was to sail 70 miles away from Israeli waters. We never entered into the zone that they had declared as restricted. The calls continued intermittently from 10.30 p.m. till 02.00 a.m.. From that point on we did not receive any calls or warnings. Israel launched claims like ‘We told them to stop, they did not.’ Between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. we did not receive any calls or warnings. They fired from the helicopters without any warning or call as soon as they neared us.

“We evaluated all the possibilities prior to embarking on this journey, but I was not expecting Israel to carry an attack of this kind in international waters…

The interview with the Captain of the Mavi Marmara, published on the IHH website, continues:

“The operation started at 4.30 a.m., zodiac boats full of armed soldiers surrounded us, they started descending to the upper deck from the helicopters as well. The soldiers launched gas grenades and opened fire before boarding the ship. We had losses because of the live fire opened from a helicopter on our passenger ship …

” was receiving reports of injuries from the upper deck while I was on the bridge right at the beginning of the boarding process. Weapons of 3 soldiers who boarded first were seized by the passengers during the commotion, however those weapons were never used by the passengers, instead, the weapons were thrown into the sea.

“Israeli soldiers had plastic ammunition firing less-lethal weapons, paintball guns modified to use glass marbles, short and long barrel weapons with live ammunition. Most of the injuries and deaths occurred during the initial fire by the soldiers on the upper deck before and during the boarding using live ammunition. It took 30 minutes for the soldiers to go into the lower deck through the upper deck. At that point, they kept firing to the lower decks from up above. Afterwards, they came to the bridge and down to the lower decks. After they managed to take control of the bridge, soldiers from zodiac boats boarded the ship.

Q: Could Israel have hauled the ship to Ashdod harbor by using any other methods without anyone getting hurt?

“If you want to intercept a civilian boat, there are several ways of doing that. However, descending on the ship firing from up above directly towards the deck cannot only be explained by the intention to intercept the ship … After the operation started we changed our route to 270 (towards West) from 185 and speeded up in order to move further from the Israeli waters. Because, the frigates that surrounded us were specifically forcing us to return to Israeli waters by nearing us from the starboard of the ship. Then, we tried to go further away. They were firing from the back through the port-side windows of the bridge, then they entered the bridge. It was impossible to carry out resistance against 10 commandos jumping in with guns in their hands. When they entered the bridge we knew that there were 4 martyrs already and lots of injured passengers. We surrendered to avoid any more casualties. No resistance took place on the bridge, it was impossible anyway.

“When the soldiers arrived on the bridge, they put all the crew on the ground and handcuffed them. As Captain of the ship I refused to lie down on the ground and after arguing with me for a short time, they made me sit down on a chair and told me not to move. They did not handcuff me. First they asked us to stop the engines. The soldiers did not go inside the ship until all the decks were under control. We were in touch with the lower deck through a radio transmitter. Passengers on the lower deck requested immediate emergency medical aid. I told this to their commander several times. They told me that no medical aid will be provided unless we put the engines back on and turn our route to 130, to Ashdod that is. All sorts of emergency aid facilities were present onboard our ship but they did not let our doctors use these and treat the injured.

The control board of the ship was damaged during the boarding and the searching process by the soldiers after the boarding. We were taking the repairing process slowly thinking that some kind of help was on its way to us as we were in international waters. As the repair process continued I wanted to see the injured passengers and Israeli team’s commander let me go down to the lower deck where the injured were being kept. However, as I went to the lower deck, the soldiers asked me to take off my uniform’s top telling me that they would do a search. They attacked me with their guns, handcuffed me and took me down to where the passengers were held. Meanwhile the passengers were kept handcuffed and on their knees on the open deck. They kept the helicopters above the boat and the propellers hit the water spraying freezing cold water on us deliberately. They kept doing this for hours just to exert psychological torture. As one of the engines was put back on, they took me back to the bridge.

Q: How were you greeted as you reached Israel?

“Around 8.30 p.m. we entered Ashdod Harbor. As we reached the shore they handcuffed me and took me out of the ship, following a medical examination and preparation of registration papers I was taken to another place for interrogation. As I was one of the first group taken out of the ship I do not have detailed information on what happened to the rest of the passengers there after. Before being taken to the detention center I was held in the transfer vehicle for 4-5 hours and then they took me to an isolated cell. I was held incommunicado until arriving at the airport to return back to Turkey, except for the Israeli interrogation officers. I am not even sure where I was held during the interrogations…

Q: They were asking for names?

“They were trying to find people from IHH to blame rather than accusing me. They kept asking for names, especially of those who organized the flotilla campaign. I told them that IHH is not a clandestine group, it is an aid organization and they could get more information from the Foundation’s website instead of interrogating me. Then, they changed their question and asked about whether there were preparations for an attack towards soldiers and about those who led such preparations. Their last question was about who geared up for a resistance before the soldiers boarded the ship and what the preparations were. They asked about this for several times. They told me about some passengers’ accounts stating that iron bars were cut by the activists as a preparation for the resistance against Israeli soldiers. They asked about who the ones cutting the iron bars were and who was lead those people.

Q: How did you respond to these questions?

“I told them that except for some individual actions there was no organized preparation for the Israeli interception and even those individual efforts were prevented by the crew and the flotilla organizers. I told them that I sent the second captain to check out on the passengers. I also told the interrogators that after the warning was launched, IHH staff who took care of the passengers collected the iron bars and threw them into the sea and they brought the cutting stones to the bridge and paid close attention to avoid any provocative action onboard. Besides, when Israeli soldiers entered the bridge, those cutting stones were there in the bridge.

Q: Israel distributed a footage from your interrogation. What could be the aim of this?

“The interrogation video that Israel gave to the media was taken after being asked the same questions over and over again after several interrogations. The answers are cut and edited according to their argument, the end of the talk was cut off and because of that it might lead to some misunderstanding. If they give out the full video of the interrogation, the truth will come out, that is why they only distributed a few minutes of the footage. By doing so, they are trying to mislead people.

“During the interrogations … They were trying to find someone to blame, they were asking for names, especially. I have not seen any video camera in the interrogation cell, apparently what they had was hidden cameras. My first interrogation was held in the harbor, then in the detention center I was interrogated several times again and again with the same questions asked. Except for the last one, all the interrogations were held in Turkish, only the last one was in English.

Q: You are a boat captain, did you have any disagreement with IHH staff members?

“Some Israeli and Turkish media institutions have been trying to impose the idea that the Captain and IHH staff do not get along very well, however, since the day we embarked on our journey from Istanbul, we did not have any disagreements or problems with IHH and we exchanged ideas, made the decisions together regarding the passengers and established the order onboard together and took precautions to create a harmonious state on the ship”…

This interview is posted on the IHH website here .

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