Turkish NGO With a Murky Past Acquires a Fleet for Gaza Aid Deliveries

Ro/pax Prince
Courtesy IHH

Published Apr 16, 2024 7:52 PM by The Maritime Executive


The IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, a Turkish NGO with a controversial past, has decided to acquire three ships and launch a relief convoy to Gaza.

IHH currently operates relief voyages from Turkey to Egypt for cross-border transport into Gaza, but this new mission is advertised as an all-water route. It would be the second time that the conservative Islamic group has tried to transit through the Israeli naval blockade around Gaza - and the first time ended in violence. 

IHH has acquired three vessels for its "Freedom Flotilla," reflagged them and changed their names. It is planning to depart for Gaza by the end of this month with the freighter Anadolu (ex name Dalya H), passenger vessel Vicdan (ex name The Majestic), and ro/pax ferry Akdeniz (ex name Prince). The NGO has launched a fundraising appeal to help pay for the vessels and their cargo.

The amount of aid cargo that the passenger vessels will be able to deliver is unclear: Gaza has no port infrastructure of its own for merchant ships, and any seaborne cargo must be lightered onto shallow-draft barges or workboats for delivery. It is also unknown whether Israel would allow IHH - which Israel considers a terrorist organization - to enter Gaza's waters. 

IHH has tried this once before, without permission. In 2010, it organized a similar convoy to Gaza with six ships and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists, intending to run the Israeli blockade and generate publicity. On the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara, a group of about 40 IHH members boarded in Istanbul without a security check, according to a post-incident investigation by a UN panel. This "hardcore" group intended to resist Israeli intervention in the mission, by force if necessary.

When Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara off Gaza by helicopter, the boarding team was assaulted with iron bars, wooden poles, chains, and slingshots; several commandos were relieved of their weapons, seven were injured, and two were shot (non-fatally). When the dust cleared, nine activists were dead and dozens more were injured with gunshot wounds. Turkey accused Israel of excessive use of force, and diplomatic relations soured; the Israeli blockade remained in place. 

IHH (?nsani Yard?m Vakf?) is a member of Ittilaf al-Kheir, an Islamic charity organization that backs the terrorist group Hamas. The IHH has support from the Turkish government, and also allegedly has ties to Turkish intelligence; in decades past, it has been accused of assisting Al Qaeda, trafficking arms in Libya, funneling funds to Hamas, and serving as an intermediary for Turkish interests in the Syrian Civil War. IHH denies any ties to terrorism and describes itself as a purely humanitarian organization, with interests in search and rescue and aid activities. 

The only other maritime aid operator in Gaza, World Central Kitchen, suspended its work in the territory after Israeli airstrikes killed seven of its employees. The U.S. government is currently working on setting up an alternative maritime aid corridor with more substantial military infrastructure.