Estelle: Latest ship to try to break Israel's blockade on Gaza
ROME - The Estelle, the latest ship to try to break Israel's blockade on Gaza as part of the "Freedom Flotilla" movement, will set sail from Naples in southern Italy on Saturday, a spokeswoman for the movement said.
"The Estelle will be leaving in two days time, probably towards sundown. We are ready," Ann Ighe said by telephone.
"We think it will take around two weeks to get to Gaza, but it will obviously also depend on the weather conditions," she added.
The Estelle, whose voyage is being organised by an international pro-Palestinian coalition, will be carrying humanitarian goods to the Gaza Strip.
There will be 17 activists from around the world on board, including passengers and crew from Canada, Israel, Norway, Sweden and the United States.
Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent weapons from entering the coastal territory, which is run by the Islamist movement Hamas, and has used force to defend it in the past.
The first Freedom Flotilla in May 2010 ended in tragedy when nine Turkish nationals were killed after Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, the lead ship, as it tried to break through the blockade.
"When people think of flotillas, they think of the Mavi Marmara. But the Estelle is very different, she was chosen to change the perception of the campaign, to show that it's a non-violent campaign," Ighe said.
At just 53 metres (173 feet) long, the Estelle is much smaller than the Marmara ferry, and has sails as well as an engine.
"It is a vessel that has travelled for Greenpeace protests and on fair-trade missions. The Estelle is a peaceful ship," Ighe said.
The Estelle set off originally from Sweden and arrived in the Gulf of Naples on Thursday after a tour of Europe, including Finland, France and Spain. Its exact location can be followed on the flotilla's Ship to Gaza website (http://shiptogaza.se).
A second attempt to break the blockade last summer with a coalition of ships setting sail from Athens failed after Greek authorities intercepted the boats, banning their departure and towing back into port those who tried to leave.
In November last year, the Israeli navy also intercepted two Irish and Canadian ships carrying 27 passengers and crew that were trying to breach the blockade in international waters off Gaza.