Tunisians demand government block entry of Israel-linked cargo ship

The container vessel Cornelius A is Turkish-flagged but appears to operate on behalf of the Israeli shipping line Zim under an arrangement with its owner Arkas. (Arkas Line)

Activists and trade unions in Tunisia are demanding that their government prevent an Israeli-chartered cargo ship from docking at the port of Radès.

The vessel Cornelius A is scheduled to call at the Tunisian port in coming days.

The ship is Turkish-flagged, but appears to be operated on behalf of the Israeli shipping company Zim.

According to the schedule at Zim’s website, the container ship may have already stopped at Radès in July – although it appears to have escaped the notice of activists. But they want future calls by the vessel canceled.

“It would be extremely scandalous to allow this boat to dock in Radès, especially since last Sunday [the] Israeli navy intercepted the Freedom Flotilla in international waters,” TACBI, the Tunisian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, stated this week.

Last weekend, Israeli military forces stormed and commandeered the Al Awda, one of two boats carrying activists, journalists and medical supplies in an effort to break the maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip.

On Wednesday, the UGTT, Tunisia’s main labor federation, described the news that the Israel-linked ship would be calling at Radès “dangerous.”

“The authorities must stop this as we have no relations with this usurping entity and we call on everyone to challenge this covert normalization,” the UGTT added.

Sami Tahri, the deputy secretary general of the UGTT, told local radio on Wednesday that the labor federation had asked the government to “verify” the information regarding the ship, and to act to stop it landing. He said that the government had not responded to the UGTT’s urgent requests.

Turkey is clearly embarrassed by the matter. Its ambassador in Tunis, Ömer Faruk Doğan, posted a statement on Twitter accusing TACBI and the UGTT of “attempting to spread false perceptions.”

“Deep Turkish-Tunisian relations will not be influenced by information that tries to manipulate,” Doğan added.

Doğan posted a photo of a letter he wrote to the head of the UGTT protesting over its statement. He also posted a statement from OMMP – the Tunisian port authority – affirming that the Cornelius A is a Turkish ship operated by the Turkish shipping line Arkas on a regular route that has been running for three years.

But this is not the whole truth, since the Cornelius A appears on the official Zim schedule.

The Zim website offers shipping between Haifa, a port in present-day Israel, and Radès using the Spanish port of Valencia as a cargo transfer point and the Cornelius A as one of the carrier vessels.

The website of the Israeli shipping line Zim shows stops for the Cornelius A container ship in the Tunisian port of Radès.

Moreover, Zim and Arkas are known to operate a “vessel sharing agreement” on other cargo lines.

It therefore appears that Zim is using Arkas to access ports that would otherwise be closed to its own ships.

The outcry in Tunisia is not the first time activists focus on Zim.

In 2014, organizers working with labor unions in the United States under the banner of the Block the Boat campaign declared victory after they forced Zim to cancel stops for its vessels at the port of Oakland.