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Voice of Peace - History (3)

On 8th June more ships arrived at the Buoy to form another convoy travelling south-bound through the Suez Canal. A Pilot boat visited each one in turn to arrange their passage, but avoided and ignored  the MV Peace. That evening, when the other ships had left the area and sailed into the Canal, the Egyptian gunboat started dropping anti-personnel bombs around the MV Peace.

After a further five days, during which attempts were made to contact the Pilot boat and Port Said Radio, both of whom refused to answer, Abie Nathan managed to contact some backers in America and the United Press Agency. As a result of these contacts with the outside world the crew on board the radio ship learned that reports were circulating in Egypt to the effect that the MV Peace had sunk!

Eventually a message was relayed to the Port Said Harbour authorities and the Pilot boat came alongside the MV Peace on 16th June 1975. After taking details of crew nationalities, intended destination and cargo they told the Captain to wait for further instructions and left. Nothing more was heard from the authorities but after about a week the gunboat was replaced by another one which started sailing close  to the MV Peace, almost ramming  the radio ship on a number of occasions.

Meanwhile, the crew on board the Peace were becoming more and more frustrated - food and fresh water supplies were running short and one of the generators also failed, cutting the ship's power supply and air conditioning system. After a few more days Abie Nathan was forced to contact Port Said Harbour authorities asking permission to enter port as he had two sick men on board.

The day after he made this request a launch carrying two officials from the Suez Canal Authority, Egyptian Police officers and a doctor drew alongside the MV Peace and, after treating the sick men, they left saying they would return later to collect the two crew members who were Egyptian nationals. They did return and removed the two Egyptian crewmen three days later, but with them gone it reduced what little chance remained that the MV Peace would be able to enter Port Said.

Abie Nathan succeeded in contacting the Egyptian Pilot boat again and this time he was informed that the ship could not enter the Suez Canal as it had no agent in Port Said. Arrangements were then made through contacts in Marseilles, for an Egyptian agent to be appointed, but the company subsequently refused to act for the Peace ship.

While the MV Peace lay at anchor, unable to move, tensions on board continued to build - the Captain and broadcasting staff wanted to sail to a  position off Israel and start transmissions, marine crew members on loan to the Peace ship wanted to go ashore and move to their next ship. Having got so far with his plans Abie Nathan would have none of this and, despite repeated requests from his crew, was prepared to sit and wait indefinitely for the Egyptian authorities to allow the radio ship through the Suez Canal.

However, after nearly three weeks at anchor off the Canal Buoy Abie Nathan decided that the Peace would have to sail to a position outside Egyptian territorial waters from where he could broadcast a special appeal to President Sadat asking again for permission to enter the Suez Canal. The Egyptian authorities had never actually refused the Peace ship permission to enter the Canal, but had just kept the vessel waiting in the hope that one day Abie Nathan would give up and leave the area.

This in fact happened on 26th June 1975 and as the MV Peace sailed away from the Canal Buoy the gunboat circled and pursued the radio ship for a while, turning its guns threateningly towards Abie Nathan and his crew. Because of uncertainties about whether the Egyptians were operating a twenty or a fifty mile territorial limit the Captain, without informing Abie Nathan, actually sailed the ship to a position off Israeli territorial waters. From here, and in the belief that he was still off Egypt, Abie Nathan broadcast his personal appeal to President Sadat, explaining the history of the Peace Foundation, the Voice of Peace radio station and his mission to enter the Suez Canal.

Nothing was heard from the Egyptian authorities - they probably had not even picked up the broadcast anyway, so Abie Nathan instructed the Captain to sail to a position off Ashdod from where they could obtain fresh supplies of food and water.

Almost immediately the Voice of Peace started broadcasting to Israel once again and, even with only three DJs on board, it managed to maintain a 24 hour schedule because the engineering staff took turns at playing continuous music programmes. Meanwhile, each evening Abie Nathan came on the air to talk about peace and play 'peace music'.

While these broadcasts were being made the ship sailed northwards to a position off Haifa and then Abie Nathan announced suddenly during his programme:- "This is the Voice of Peace and we're closing down now and sailing into harbour to try and raise some more money to continue with our job." He indicated that he planned to either sell the ship to the German religious organisation or if he could raise enough money from selling airtime, he was prepared to turn the station into a commercial venture once again. The Voice of Peace then closed playing the "Give Peace a Chance" loop tape.

The MV Peace sailed into Haifa where she was met by hundreds of fans  and a flotilla of yachts and small boats. An Israeli television crew also came on board and interviewed Abie Nathan about his plans for the future. Abie Nathan made further statements saying that if he could not raise sufficient finance to continue operating the Voice of Peace as a commercial station he would have to sell the radio ship.

However, the money was raised and  at the end of July 1975 the MV Peace,  stocked with five months fuel supplies, left Haifa with broadcasts from the Voice of Peace recommencing on 1st August.

In mid-September 1975 after about six weeks of relatively uneventful broadcasting from off the Israeli coast the Peace ship sailed south once again towards Egypt, hoping that this time it would be allowed through the Suez Canal. Yet again though Abie Nathan was refused permission by the Egyptian authorities who sent two warships to stand by the MV Peace, preventing her entering the Canal unofficially.

As a gesture of peace and goodwill Abie Nathan then decided to hire a small boat and sail into Port Said himself to deliver flowers from the people of Israel. On his arrival in Port Said he was arrested by the Egyptians, taken to Cairo where he was questioned for several hours and later deported to Rome.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian warships started to continuously circle the MV Peace, firing their machine guns across her bow and throwing grenades in the sea near the radio ship. Those on board the MV Peace decided to leave the area after two days of Egyptian harassment and they sailed back to anchor off Israel and resume normal broadcasts.

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