Held aid workers 'treated like terror suspects'

Friday 12 November 2010 17:08

Seven British aid workers held captive on a ship in the Libyan sea have been told they may be treated as "terrorists" when they reach land, sources on board said today.

The volunteers, part of the Road to Hope convoy bringing aid to Gaza, say they were taken by force from Derna Harbour in Libya yesterday after a payment dispute with the ship's captain.

After more than 24 hours at sea, the captives - who are being held in a small cabin on the ship's lower deck - arrived in Greek waters this morning, where the ship was boarded by a group of Greek commandos.

It has now anchored at Piraeus, near Athens, but it may be hours before the aid workers can leave the vessel.

Ellie Merton, London liaison for the convoy, said she was "extremely concerned" after receiving SOS messages from those on board the Strofades IV.

"They are being treated like terror suspects by the Greek commandos, who have taken control of the vessel.

"They are not being held at gunpoint as some people are reporting, but there are guns on board and we are extremely concerned.

"I have been sent text messages and Facebook messages from the group and we just want to know what their status is and whether they are going to be safe or not."

One of the volunteers, Irishman Ken O'Keefe, who was involved in the Mavi Marmara attack earlier this year, wrote on Facebook today: "We are being labelled 'terrorists' by the captain on the ship and we are hearing the Greek authorities may treat us as such.

He later added: "There are Greek commandos in a Zodiak following the ship, shades of the Mavi Marmara. The commandos look edgy, spread the word, we want to return to Libya."

Charity worker Tauqir Sharif, 23, from Walthamstow in London, is also on board and said the aid workers had been "body searched" this morning by the commandos.

"Six of us are Muslims and have beards, it's not looking good," he told the BBC.

Mr Sharif said a Greek warship and coastguard vessel began following the ship as it approached the harbour.

British nationals on board the Strofades IV include Mustapha El-Guerbouzi, Yunus Malik, Raheal Parveez, and Nagib Elgarib Elbarrami, all from London, and Kieran Turner, who lives in Liverpool.

Mr Turner, 38, the leader of the convoy, said in a message yesterday: "At one point we managed to get hold of a ship's radio, and got through to a nearby tanker. Through the tanker we sent out distress messages requesting help, and these got passed onto two Nato warships in the area.

"We've been given one meal, of sorts, since the ship left Derna. We've got access to water, but it's not drinking water."

Khalid Mohamed Omar Ali, whose hometown has not yet been reported, is also from the UK.

Algerian Aziz Mekkati, and David Callender from Ireland are the two other captives on board.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said it would provide consular assistance to the British nationals on the ship when they reached land.

"We remain in close contact with the Greek authorities, and our priority remains that there is a safe resolution to this incident."

Ms Merton confirmed that all the captives were safe and uninjured when the ship docked in Greece at 3.45pm today.

Kieran Turner, one of those on board, told Ms Merton via telephone that the Greek authorities were being "lovely, very sympathetic and speaking English", and were "looking after" the ten volunteers.

They were hoping to walk on to dry land within the next hour, Ms Merton said.

There was no sign of the ship's captain or vice-captain, but the Greek commandos remained on board the ship.

Foreign Office officials were also in attendance to support the aid workers as they disembarked.

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