First Humanitarian Aid Ship Nears Gaza

ON 03/14/2024 AT 01 : 25 AM

The big question about the new food and medical supply vessels nearing Gaza by sea is whether enough will ever get to those most in need, and before far more die.
Open Arms humanitarian aid ship from Spain.
The Spanish humanitarian aid vessel Open Arms is expected to drop anchor offshore Gaza today with food supplies for half a million meals.. World Central Kitchen, via X

Two days ago, the Spanish-flagged ship Open Arms, left from Lanaca, Cyprus, as the first maritime emissary about to bring humanitarian to desperate Palestinians facing death by starvation or the continued onslaught by Israeli Defense Forces. It is towing a barge behind it containing the badly needed food.

It is expected to reach its final port, a temporary floating dock off the coast of Gaza, sometime today after a 240-mile trip from Lanaca.

This ship has little to do with the recently announced United States plan to build a floating unloading station off the coast of Gaza and send new aid through this route, other than that the same Cyprian shipping port will be used.

This effort is being jointly run by the Spanish humanitarian aid group Open Arms which is the namesake for the vessel, and the World Central Kitchen (WCK), a Non-Governmental Organization founded in 2010 by Chef and Humanitarian advocate José Andrés originally to provide emergency food in the face of natural disasters. WCK provides prepacked food supplies for shipment, along with on-the-ground emergency kitchens for meal preparation and distribution where it is needed.

Though it is not clear if Israel will allow it yet, WCK already has some 60 previously established kitchen locations which it hopes to use to prepare hot food from the supplies soon to arrive offshore of Gaza. It says it has already prepared some 35 million meals to Palestinians in Gaza through those kitchen distribution centers, though it is believed those numbers are from the past rather than in the heat of the current murderous attacks by Israel since October 7.

The costs of the food, shipping, and support staff are primarily paid for by the United Arab Emirates, with additional backing from the European Commission.

The ship is carrying roughly 200 tons of food. Within the supplies are flour; rice; legumes such as beans, chickpeas and lentils; canned fish and meat; and canned vegetables. It is laid out on pallets weighing an estimated 1,000 kilograms (approximately 2200 pounds). After delivery and preparation, it is expected to provide about a half million meals. That number may sound enormous, and it is relative at least to what has been allowed into Gaza recently. But with there being approximately 1.7 million Palestinians still in Gaza and the United Nations estimated 25% of those are near starvation because Israel has prevented aid from coming into most of Gaza for months, even if it reaches those most desperate for food its supplies will be gone in less than one day.

Jetty connecting Gaza with offshore docking for humanitarian aid.
The jetty which will connect Gaza with the floating port area where ships like Open Arms will offload their food and other aid for Palestinians in Gaza is shown here currently under construction.. World Central Kitchen, via X

As the ship arrives, it will first drop anchor and hold fast while a jetty is being built to link the floating port area with the Gaza beachfront. Palestinians from Gaza working under the direction of WCK are building a jetty to connect to the floating dock, using bombed-out rubble gathered from onshore in Gaza to create it.

The Open Arms vessel is coming after the United States Central Command and the Royal Jordanian Air Force airdropped some 5,280 pounds of pasta, rice, flour, and pasta into Gaza on March 12. Jordan provided the food for those missions and U.S. military C-130 aircraft carried out the parachuted food deliveries. That in turn follows a series of other airdrops of food into Gaza which the Pentagon said had previously delivered about 204,000 meals and 48,000 bottles of water since March 2.

As the shipments begin to unload from the Spanish Open Arms barge on the new makeshift jetty hopefully within just a few days, Israeli Defense Forces will be heavily involved in final inspections of the goods as well as coordinating deliveries to the World Central Kitchen cooking centers and other distribution points. Based on recent results of attempted delivery of past goods, the IDF may end up refusing to send some of it to its final distribution point, based on its belief that the goods may include items banned for distribution within the country.

While Israel is attempting to be seen as assisting with aid distribution in a positive manner, as more aid has come in the IDF has become stricter particularly regarding non-food items entering the country. It recently blocked a shipment of wooden toys for children that were coming in, on the grounds that the wood could be used to build weapons. A recent kit of medical supplies was turned back just in the last few days after it was discovered there were small medical scissors provided in children’s medical kits. These scissors are part of the IDF’s many types of banned items it says could be turned into weapons. Those include items such as chemotherapy treatments for cancer, oxygen tanks, batteries, uninterruptable power supplies (UPSs), and x-ray machines.

Israel also bans supplies for emergency repair work in Gaza. Cement mixers are out because they could be used, the IDF says, to construct military fortifications. Cranes, metal pipes, and fertilizer are also forbidden for delivery in occupied Gaza.

The second ship to bring food aid from Cyprus to Gaza is apparently already prepped and waiting to head out.

According to Constantinos Kombos, Cyprus’ foreign minister, this additional vessel is “much bigger”. 

“We already have a commercial ship with much more space,” he said in an interview. “It has been here since Saturday … the whole point is to try to offer much-needed assistance to the people who are in this horrible situation.”

While the supplies are welcomed, Hamas reminded the world in statements released yesterday by Salama Marouf, head of the organization’s communications office, that these are far less than are needed to resolve the dire food situation in Gaza.

“The ship’s cargo does not exceed that of one or two trucks, and it will take days to arrive,” Marouf said.

United Nations’ Foreign Policy Head Josep Borrell also greeted the new shipments as a positive gesture, but pushed back hard on Israel for having created this human-caused catastrophe in the first place.

“When we look for alternative ways of providing [humanitarian aid] support by sea, by air, we have to remind [ourselves] that we have to do it because the natural way of providing support through roads is being … artificially closed [by Israel],” he said yesterday.

“Starvation is being used as a war arm, and when we condemned this happening in Ukraine, we have to use the same words for what is happening,” he continued.

The United States effort to build a longer-lasting maritime port Joe Biden announced last week in his State of the Union message is also not going to help much, at least not soon. Despite Biden’s spokespersons having followed up by saying they expected a stronger floating dock would be ready “within days”, the Pentagon said yesterday in a press briefing that it might take as long as 60 days to build it.

That 60 days is also the same amount of time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in statements earlier this week that he hoped was all it would take to finish killing off or shipping out the remaining Palestinians from Gaza, once the assault on Rafah begins.