First Seaborne Shipment of Food Aid Leaves Cyprus for Gaza

Tug World Central Kitchen shipment
Courtesy World Central Kitchen

Published Mar 12, 2024 4:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

The rescue tug Open Arms has departed Cyprus with a cargo of food aid for Gaza, the first of many to come. The cargo owner, global charity World Central Kitchen, is working around Gaza's lack of port infrastructure by building its own pier for receiving the shipments. 

The groups acknowledged that it is an ambitious and risky plan, but say that the possibility of failure is less important than attempting to alleviate hunger in Gaza. Due to a border shutdown implemented by Israeli authorities, food aid deliveries by overland routes have ground to a near-halt, and all of Gaza's population is exposed to the risk of malnutrition or worse. The impact is felt most acutely in the north of the Gaza Strip, the scene of the most intense Israeli bombardment activity last fall.  

"The people of the north will be fed! Let this moment at the beginning of Ramadan be a good omen, for peace in the Middle East," said World Central Kitchen founder Jose Andres in a statement. 

The U.S. government and the EU are contemplating a similar mission to transfer food and supplies into Gaza, using a terminal in Cyprus as a staging point and a temporary finger pier for offloading at the delivery point. The plan is ambitious and depends upon execution of a Joint Logistics Over The Shore (JLOTS) operation, a specialized U.S. military capability for high-volume cargo landings on unimproved beachheads. 

The first component of the JLOTS force has departed the U.S. East Coast, and the objective is to have an operation up and running within 60 days. Some humanitarian organizations say that this will arrive too late to alleviate the urgent need for food in Gaza, and that only opening the land corridors for truck deliveries will allow enough aid to reach the population in time to avert starvation. 

"While we welcome efforts to provide more aid to Gaza, temporary ports and airdrops are a distraction from the critical solution to saving children’s lives in Gaza . . . safe, unfettered humanitarian access," said Save the Children International in a statement. 

Israeli Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir advocates restricting food and medical aid deliveries to Gaza until after Hamas agrees to release its remaining Israeli hostages. In late February, after a failed truck convoy operation, he argued that allowing humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip is "madness" until the last 130 Israeli abductees are safely returned. 

An estimated 31,000 Gazans have died since the counterattack on Hamas began in October, including both combatants and civilians. 27 children have died of hunger in recent weeks, according to the Hamas-affiliated Palestinian Health Ministry.