In a telephone interview from Ireland, Shane Dillon, First Mate of the Challenger —a U.S.-flagged ship that was one of six in the Freedom Flotilla sailing together when they intercepted by the Israeli Navy before dawn on Monday 30 May— said that the six ships were steaming ahead, slowly, at approximately 7.5 knots per hour when the Israeli naval raid at sea began. There were other ships in the area at the time, Dillon confirmed, but because there was no radar on board the Challenger, he had no idea of how many. They continued to sail, though followed by Israeli naval vessels, for about 15 to 20 minutes (during which time there were several radio exchanges).
Dillon said that the Captain of the Challenger was asleep (!) at the time that he saw the Israeli Navy prepare to board the largest ship in the Freedom Flotilla group, the Mavi Marmara (chartered by the Turkish humanitarian relief organization IHH).
[The Australian newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), published an interesting information in an account earlier this week that “Challenger One’s first mate, Shane Dillon, saw (SMH staff photographer, Kate) Geraghty being attacked and Israeli forces ripping equipment from McGeough. ‘She was just doing her journalistic duties … She advised them she was a bona fide photographer … She was just attacked’, Mr Dillon told the Herald from Dublin. He said Challenger One had attempted to outrun the Israeli boats to give Geraghty a chance to send her images. ”We were 15 minutes from the flotilla before they could board us’, he said”. This was published here.]
Questioned in the phone interview today, Dillon said that at the moment when he saw the Israeli naval forces preparing to board the Mavi Marmara, he made the decision to break away and make a run for it, as he described to the SMH. “I sounded the whistle — the Captain of the Challenger was asleep (!) at the time. We speeded up to about 22 knots”, Dillon said. The Challenger travelled for about 15 minutes or so, he said, flanked all the while by one Israeli naval vessel. Dillon explained that he only stopped at the point where a much bigger Israeli naval vessel suddenly materialized, and shined a very bright light on the Challenger. He said he was not aware of any other of the six ships travelling together in the Freedom Flotilla doing the same.
Meanwhile, there are reports that the Israeli Ministry of Defense has begun to loosen some of the restrictions it has imposed on goods entering the Gaza Strip.
And, after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington on Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama told journalists that “We – and I think President Abbas agrees with this – recognize that Israel should not have missiles flying out of Gaza into its territories. And so there should be a means by which we are able to stop the flow of arms that could endanger Israel’s security … At the same time, we’re doing so in a way that allows the people in Gaza to live out their aspirations and their dreams both for themselves and their children…we’ve already begun some hardheaded discussions with the Israelis in achieving that.” This was reported here.