Ship due to carry 200 tonnes of food to Gaza still waiting in Cyprus

Port staffers prepare the aid on a platform near to the docked ship belonging to the Open Arms aid group, as it prepares to ferry some 200 tonnes of rice and flour directly to Gaza, at the port in Larnaca, Cyprus, on Sunday, March 10, 2024. The European Commission president said Friday the Open Arms ship will make a pilot voyage as international donors launched a sea corridor to supply the besieged territory that is facing widespread hunger after five months of war. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
The ship belonging to the Open Arms aid group will carry 200 tonnes of rice and flour directly to Gaza. Credit: AP

A ship due to deliver 200 tonnes of food to Gaza, where people are facing widespread hunger, is still docked in Cyprus following "logistical problems".

The vessel, owned by Spain's Open Arms aid group, was expected to make its pilot voyage to test a new maritime aid corridor across the Mediterranean "as soon as possible", the group said.

While efforts to get aid moving across the new ocean route are still going ahead, the ship remained at the Cyprus’ port of Larnaca on Sunday afternoon, in what Open Arms spokesperson Linda Roth called “a quickly evolving and fluid situation".

The aid group has partnered with US charity World Central Kitchen, founded by celebrity chef José Andrés, which said on Saturday that pallets filled with "desperately-needed ingredients and ready-to-eat food" were being loaded onto the ship.

Open Arms founder Oscar Camps said the ship was scheduled to depart on Saturday and would take two to three days to arrive at an undisclosed location.

A barge loaded with around 200 tonnes of rice and flour is being towed directly to Gaza by the Open Arms aid group ship. Credit: AP

However, on Friday, EU commission spokesman Balazs Ujvari said the Open Arms ship’s direct route to Gaza raises a number of “logistical problems” which are still being worked out, which could explain the current delay.

He added that the United Nations and the Red Cross will also play a role in the operation.

On Sunday a US Army vessel was on its way to the Mediterranean, carrying equipment for building a temporary pier in Gaza to facilitate the delivery of aid through the same corridor.

The maritime corridor was launched by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen earlier this week in response to what she described as a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

Israel said it welcomed the maritime corridor, but cautioned it would also need security checks.

“The Cypriot initiative will allow the increase of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, after a security check according to Israeli standards,” said Lior Haiat, a spokesperson for Israel’s foreign ministry.

Since serving its first meals in Gaza in early October, World Central Kitchen's team have distributed more than 30 million meals to people in need and set up 60 community kitchens in the besieged territory.

Mr Camps said the ship will pull a barge loaded with 200 tonnes of rice and flour close to the Gaza shore.

Pontoon boats will then be used for the complicated final leg to tow the barge up to the pier.

Mr Camps said his group has been planning the delivery for two months, long before the EU Commission chief declared the launch of the safe corridor.

Efforts to set up a sea route for aid deliveries come amid mounting alarm over the spread of hunger among Gaza’s 2.3 million people.

Hunger is most acute in northern Gaza, which has been isolated by Israeli forces for months and suffered long cut-offs of food supply deliveries.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden has stepped up his public criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr Biden said he believes Netanyahu is “hurting Israel more than helping Israel” in how he is approaching its war against Hamas in Gaza, now in its sixth month. Speaking Saturday to MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart, the president expressed support for Israel’s right to pursue Hamas after the militants' October 7 attack on southern Israel.

However, he said Mr Netanyahu “must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken,” adding: “You cannot have 30,000 more Palestinians dead."

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