Craig Murray: The Curious Case of the Freedom Flotilla

The Gaza Freedom Flotilla has been postponed because the flag state of the vessels withdrew registration, but why did organisers proceed with unreliable Guinea Bissau?

Supporters of a past Freedom Flotilla out in force on May 2011. (Luciano/Flickr)

By Craig Murray

The departure of the spectacular Freedom Flotilla to Gaza carrying 5500 tonnes of aid has been postponed (again), because the flag state of the major vessels, Guinea Bissau, has withdrawn their registration.

The key question is why the organisers were proceeding with such an unreliable flag state in the first place.

In the 2010 Freedom Flotilla, the vessel Mavi Marmara was boarded by Israeli troops and 10 aid workers were executed in cold blood. Just days before sailing, the Mavi Marmara had changed its flag from Turkey to the Comoros Islands.

On a vessel at sea outside the 12-mile territorial limit of a state (as the Mavi Marmara was when boarded), the law that applies is that of the flag state. Had the vessel still been Turkish flagged, the murderers would have been within Turkish jurisdiction and subject to investigation by Turkey and prosecution in Turkish courts.

I flew to Izmir to investigate the case and I concluded that it was Turkish security services who had obliged the change of flag to the Comoros Islands, thus facilitating the Israeli murderous attack.

Plainly the Mavi Marmara incident should indicate to organisers of aid to Gaza the vital necessity of having a vessel registered to a flag state which would be able to react strongly to an attack by Israel on its ship, and indeed whose flag might deter Israel from such an attack.

Was it Security Service Influence?

So, it makes no sense to me that the organisers intended to proceed under the flag of Guinea Bissau.

On April 8 I received a Whatsapp message from organisers asking me to publicise the flotilla. This was my reply:

“Hi Irfan and thank you. May I ask what are the flag states of the four vessels? This is extremely important. The Mavi Marmara organisers made the literally fatal mistake of allowing the ship to reflag to the Comoros Islands before sailing. Outside the 12 mile territorial sea the vessels are under the law of and entitled to the protection of the flag state.”

After a holding reply, I received:

“Sorry for the late reply. It is still to be confirmed sir.”

I reiterated:

“OK, I am very keen that people understand that it is crucially important. I have always believed pro Israeli security services influenced the change of flag of the Mavi Marmara. Any Israeli forces boarding the ships beyond the 12-mile territorial limit are subject to the law of the flag state of the vessel. I should be grateful if you confirm to me the organisers fully understand this.”

The reply was simply: “Thank you sir.”

I am therefore entirely perplexed that the organisers went with Guinea Bissau as the flag state rather than a state likely to stand up to Israel and the U.S. Of course it failed.

Is the problem incompetence, or is it again security service influence?

I should make plain that I absolutely support the aims and the strategy of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. I have several friends on board, and I believe my good colleague Ann Wright is among the organisers. I am however intensely frustrated.

Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010. His coverage is entirely dependent on reader support. Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

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19 comments for “Craig Murray: The Curious Case of the Freedom Flotilla

  1. Janet
    May 2, 2024 at 19:18

    There is no state in the world that would defend the flotilla against Israel, and assuming that the activists could have found such a state is just magical thinking. Iran has shown us that no country wants to start a fight with the zionists. It’s not the activists fault that they went with GB. It really wouldn’t have mattered who they went with.

  2. Sarah
    May 2, 2024 at 12:32

    I heard on the news a few days back that they were stopped from travelling because they didn’t have their documents ready to share within a 2-hour window. I found that shocking as one would expect such a public and risky voyage to be at the ready with every potential document request in every potential format.
    Either they don’t want to go and this is mainly for vocal support of Gaza or they are not very organized which is in itself, scary for these brave protesters.

  3. Ray Peterson
    May 2, 2024 at 11:11

    A seriously sad blow to Code Pink, liberal left
    writers ignorant of the Israel Lobby’s global power.
    Turkey today, in spite of Erdo?an’s lying lips,
    has weapons deals with Israel.

  4. Afdal
    May 1, 2024 at 03:46

    Is there a reason they can’t simply register their vessels out of somewhere like Nicaragua or South Africa? Guinea-Bissau is itself rather far away on the west coast of Africa, so it doesn’t seem like a question of distance to a state port authority.

  5. Eric
    May 1, 2024 at 02:26

    Portguese rule of Guinea-Bissau ended in 1975, but this action shows G-B is still a colony
    — no doubt under tremendous pressure from Israel and the U.S.
    Still, Amílcar Cabral would be ashamed, I am confident.

  6. April 30, 2024 at 19:34

    What about African ships?

    I know Mandela’s grandson is on the FF bound for Gaza. Certainly his people would take precautions to secure his passage. Unfortunately, we can’t verify with him because Elon Musk suspended his account before he was set to sail. I thought this was a red flag that Mandela’s social media account would be cancelled knowing he’d use it to communicate from FF. I am almost relieved knowing the ships are in a holding pattern at this moment.

  7. Lois Gagnon
    April 30, 2024 at 16:02

    Clearly, something very sinister is afoot in this.

  8. Sam F
    April 30, 2024 at 15:48

    My guess is that the organizers had not known the importance of the flag state, and did not see a way to change the registration within the time frame that remained. Perhaps they are waiting for confirmation of a change.

    The top states for vessel registration are tiny: Panama, Marshall Islands, Liberia, Hong Kong, and Singapore; many do not even have seaports, and simply use vessel registrations to collect fees. China and Japan are common registration states that Israel might worry about, but seem unlikely to intervene militarily, and Israel did not hesitate to attack even a US Navy vessel in 1967.

    NATO flagged vessels are presumably prohibited from doing anything charitable or which might reduce AIPAC bribes.

    The organizers may not be sure what flag state would or could defend them. See GuideToShipRegistries dotcom. Perhaps Russia is an option, but NATO would denounce that as an intervention; Lloyds says it was expelled from a registration group IACS. China has been neutral in the Mideast, and might deter an act of genocide, but may only register Chinese-owned vessels.

    Perhaps readers can recommend flag states that would defend against an attack by Israel. Perhaps Sunni neighbors? Qatar has been somewhat neutral and has a ship registry Mot dot Gov dot Qa.

    • Sam F
      April 30, 2024 at 17:24

      Jordan also has a vessel registry, as well as many Palestinian refugees. It has been on the fence in relations with Israel, and might do nothing after an attack. But if they were looking for an occasion to realign with Arab interests, perhaps that would be it.

    • Eric
      May 1, 2024 at 02:24

      South Africa and Nicaragua are obvious candidates to consider.

  9. April 30, 2024 at 15:11

    Craig, you are altogether too trusting, dark forces at work.

    Spiked by the people/organisers of the flotilla? I donated to the flotilla, I have the feeling we are being conned!!! Deeply suspicious! Betrayed! Why did the organisers change the flag state? We should demand an answer from Greta Berlin for this betrayal, yet again!

    • Em
      April 30, 2024 at 20:17

      Do you know for certain that it was the organizers of the Freedom for Gaza flotilla who changed the flag state option?

      How about the President of Turkiye himself having reneged on the commitment, due to changed political facts on the ground since the catastrophic Mavi Marmara killing at sea, under Turkish flagging.

      Why did Turkiye first agree to flag 3 ships of the Code Pink flotilla, and then renege; seems to me to be just as pertinent a question, if not more relevant.

      As far as I can make out, Murray, in what he writes on the topic, doesn’t even entertain these notions.

      Not only are you “deeply suspicious”, apparently you are not politically astute enough either, to more deeply comprehend the more subtle complexities in this type of arrangement, especially given the present calamitous situation in Gaza, on top of the Israeli regimes utter disregard for any lives that are not extreme Zionist Israeli; at this point even that is questionable.

      Demand an answer from Greta Berlin, and while you’re at it, demand your money back!

  10. Litchfield
    April 30, 2024 at 15:10

    thank you, Craig Murray for this clarification.
    I have been wondering the same thing.
    Namely, WTF? Guinea Bissau??

  11. April 30, 2024 at 13:40

    Thanks for writing this. I was unaware of these issues but was curious about what was holding up the FF. I suspect thee’a all sorts of skullduggery going behind the scenes on trying to stop this.

  12. mary-lou
    April 30, 2024 at 12:16

    as we all are. to have changed the flag this way couldn’t have been a ‘mistake’, not with the horrendous precedent of the Mavi Marmara.

  13. Rebecca
    April 30, 2024 at 11:44

    From my largely uninformed perspective, this seems like liberal, moderate dithering, cravenness to authorities and naïveté. It appears to place the passengers and crews in mortal danger from lethal attacks by heavily armed, fanatical Zionists. I’m not even clear as to the purpose of this voyage. But what do I know?

    • Eric
      May 1, 2024 at 02:21

      Indeed, what do you know? What reports have you seen on the flotilla?

      • Rebecca
        May 1, 2024 at 10:46

        Only in The Guardian and a couple of leftist sites.

  14. Drew Hunkins
    April 30, 2024 at 11:35

    Excellent questions Mr. Murray.

Comments are closed.