Activist on Gaza-bound ship denies hijack, claims trapped

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One of several activists hoping to take aid to Gaza onboard a Greek ship denied Saturday they had tried to hijack the vessel and said they had been trapped onboard without food and water for several days.

Irish filmmaker David Callander, 35, said the activists had paid 82,000 dollars through an agent to hire the Strofades IV to take aid to Gaza, but the ship's captain "went mental" as they tried to set off earlier this week.

The owners of the ship, Ionian Bridge Shipping Management, said activists had tried to storm the ferry as it left the Libyan port of Derna on Thursday, and denied that anyone had been detained against their will.

"We were taking some aid onto the ship and the captain decided, for whatever reason, to start bringing the back of the ship up," Callander told AFP from the ship, which is now docked at the Greek port of Piraeus.

"Subsequently about 10 of us were left on the ship with seven Libyan police officers (apparently called to help by the ship's owners in Derna).

"We were stuck on the ship, we had no access to food, no access to water, the toilets are minimal -- they're that full that you can't really use them."

Asked whether he was free to leave now the ship was in port, Callander said the Libyans were freed earlier Saturday but he was told to stay.

"They were released today, seven of them. We tried to go with them and then we were physically dragged back onto the ship and a soldier said if I tried to get off the ship then he'd shoot me," he said.

Callander said he understood the price to hire the ship was "82,000 dollars... that was paid through an agent. We've got confirmation."

Sounding tired and upset, Callander was unsure how long he had been on the ship but said it was several days, adding that he had only had "one meal and a Pepsi" since getting on board, and had been sleeping on the floor.

Ellie Merton, London liaison for the British group Road to Hope which organised the trip, said Thursday she thought the activists were being held by the ship's Greek captain after a dispute over money.

Greek police have said they are investigating what happened.

Callander said the Irish consulate had been in touch with him and the other Irishman on board, while the British Foreign Office also said it was aware of the situation of the six Britons on board. The 10th activist is Algerian.

© 2010 AFP

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