Charity ship carrying 200 tonnes of food to Gaza leaves Cyprus port

Palestinians line up for a free meal in Rafah, Gaza Strip Credit: AP

A ship due to deliver 200 tonnes of food to Gaza, where people are facing widespread hunger, has left the port in Cyprus following days of delays due to "logistical problems".

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

But 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 who on Tuesday morning confirmed the ship had finally departed the port.

The ship is said to take two to three days to arrive at an undisclosed location and organisers confirmed the food was destined for northern Gaza.

On Friday, EU commission spokesman Balazs Ujvari said the Open Arms ship’s direct route to Gaza raises a number of “logistical problems” which were still being worked out.

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

Cypriot Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos said during a visit to Beirut that there is a “mechanism” in place for larger shipments, with the goal of "a more systematic exercise with increased volumes.”

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”.

It is the first time a ship had been authorised to deliver aid directly to Gaza since 2005, Ms von der Leyen said, adding that the European Union would work with “smaller ships” until the US completes work on its floating port.

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

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.

The vessel, owned by Spain's Open Arms aid group, will its pilot voyage to test a new maritime aid corridor across the Mediterranean. Credit: AP

The US has separately announced plans to construct a sea bridge near Gaza in order to deliver aid, but it will likely be several weeks before it is operational.

Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides posted on X social media platform X that the inaugural voyage was “one of hope and humanity” and that food being delivered is a “lifeline to civilians.”

The Cypriot government initially pitched the idea of using the east Mediterranean island nation as a base to send aid to Gaza by ship.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen thanked the Cypriot president and wrote on X that the ship’s departure was “a sign of hope,” and vowed to “do everything in our power for aid to reach Palestinians.”

The war, triggered by Hamas’ October 7 attack into Israel has killed over 30,100 Palestinians and driven some 80% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people from their homes. The U.N. says a quarter of the population is starving.

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