Recntly Israeli commandos boarded a ship called Mavi Marmara (Blue Marmara) and under shipboard resistance to landings from helicopters ended up killing nine of the 400 Turkish passengers among the 581 on board. The ship was trying to break the Israeli embargo on shipments of aid and other items to Gaza as part of a "Free Gaza" peace flotilla. Some have argued that the attack by the Israeli Defence Force, which took place in International waters, was illegal.
While Israel named five suspected terrorists on board, others maintained that passengers were innocent activists and the arguments continue. The ship was seized by the Israelis and taken to Ashdod, from where the bodies and some 520 of the passengers were flown to Istanbul and others arrested.
The 1993-built Mavi Marmara had operated on routes between Istanbul and the Sea of Marmara but had been purchased by the Islamic IHH charity and registered in the Comoros Islands in May, just a few days before the attempt to break the Israeli embargo. Of the other five ships, one was Irish-registered, one each was American, Kiribati and Turkish and two were Greek-registered.
Meanwhile, Deniz Cruise & Ferry, the major Turkish owner involved in this trade, to-day operates not only ferry services around the Bosphorus but also cruises on the cruise ferries Ankara and Samsun. Since May 15, Ankara, for example, has been operating 7-day Greek Islands cruises from Cesme, Turkey, to Piraeus, Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, Rhodes and Kos. This is in addition to Thomson Cruises’ new cruise operation from Marmaris with Thomson Celebration that began this spring.
This class of ship that Ankara and Samsun belong to has come into the news more recently as Kristina Cruises of Finland has purchased a sister ship, Kristina Katarina, which was built as Konstantin Simonov. Other ships in this series included Lev Tolstoy, Dimitry Shostakovich, Konstantin Chernenko, Mikhail Sholokov, Mikhail Suslov and Georg Ots.
Also from the same series, all of which came from the Polish shipbuilders Stocznia Szcecinska, is Iskenderun of the Turkish Maritime Lines, making a fleet of ten such cruise ferries. One of this group, the original Konstantin Chernenko, became Russ, one of the first dedicated cruise ships to trade for Saga.
Deniz Cruise & Ferry is also known as a long-time operator of small cruise ships in the eastern Mediterranean, having chartered its original Ankara to Swan Hellenic Cruises as one of its first dedicated cruise ships.
The point of this story is really to show how close strife can occasionally come to the cruise shipping industry, especially in the eastern Mediterranean, where not that long ago cruise ships such as Aegean Pearl were used to evacuate Lebanese Canadians from Lebanon, just as an example. Ironically, that same cruise ship has now been purchased from Louis Cruises by Israeli operators.