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Odelia TV (2)

The 1,219 ton ship provided by Pierrakios, which had previously sailed as a freighter under the Hungarian flag,  was re-named Odelia, after Greenwald's daughter and re-registered in Puerto Cortez, Honduras. The crew of 15 people, were officially employees of Pierrakios' firm.

Odelia was converted for her new role in the Greek port of Piraeus during the winter months of 1980/81 - the four holds were covered with large tarpaulins, and a small cabin near the bridge was converted into a broadcasting studio.   Compared to professional TV studios, the equipment was very basic - a small domestic standard video camera and a monitor as well as some equipment for picture and transmission control.

Test broadcast on Channel 59 began shortly after the Odelia had anchored off Tel Aviv and reception reports were received from along the coastal region of Israel. Special aerials were offered for sale in Tel Aviv providing reception of the new station up to 25 miles inland. These test transmissions consisted of a test card with a drawing of the ship and the word "Odelia" printed in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Occasionally short transmissions of Italian football matches or cartoons were broadcast, but the Israelis, as they had threatened,  jammed the signal with a tone on the sound and a chequered pattern effect on the vision.

Official reaction to the offshore television station was swift and threatening. An Israeli Ministry of Communications spokesman said:-

“The Government of Israel has a definite policy as regards private television broadcasters and the Communications Ministry implements this policy. The Ministry is planning to broadcast the [official] Israeli TV programme from its own transmitter on the channel which the Odelia is using.”

The relaying of Israeli State Television programmes on Channel 59 began on 15th April 1981 to, in the words of a Ministry spokesman, "check out a transmitter."

This action seemed unnecessary because after detailed inspection of the ship the Transport Ministry declared the Odelia unseaworthy due to the fact that she was lacking in various essential items of equipment, had no  radio-telephone operator and only one qualified deck officer - all contrary to international maritime regulations.

Following this declaration Yosef Seger, solicitor for the Odelia TV project's backers said his clients may reassess their position in the light of what he described as "Transport Ministry tricks"  and the fear of the proposed station's signal being jammed.

A week later the International Transport Worker's Federation (ITF) declared crew conditions on board the Odelia "intolerable" and asked the Ashdod Port Authority to prevent the ship leaving until proper conditions could be provided for the crew. Within two days the ship's owners had agreed in principle to pay the crew ITF wage rates and improve the living and working conditions on board.

With the ship now back at sea and despite all official efforts to prevent the launch of the offshore television service the Odelia began regular transmissions on 24th June 1981.

At the end of June a resident of Ramat Hasharon, Moshe Ankelvitz, petitioned the High Court of Justice in Israel to protect his right to receive broadcasts from the Odelia on his television set. Ankelvitz was quoted as saying:-

“I am for free initiative. .... I cannot approve of interference with broadcasts coming in from an area outside Israel's territorial waters and for which Israeli laws are not valid. It is not clear to me why Abie Nathan can broadcast, but not Paul Greenwald. It is equally mysterious to me why one can get good reception in Israel of the broadcasts from Jordan, which is hostile, whereas the coloured broadcasts from the Odelia are interfered with.”

After hearing the petition the Supreme Court Judge, Meir Shamgar, issued an injunction  on 25th June 1981, requesting the Ministry of Communications to give reasons within fourteen days for its jamming of the Odelia's transmissions and ordering it  to refrain from continuing this practice until the Court had made its final decision.

In reply to the Court in mid-July 1981, Gideon K Lev for the Communications Ministry warned that the Odelia's presence off the coast of Israel could lead to the establishment of many more offshore stations and a situation of chaos of the airwaves could arise in Israel as it had in Italy where there was at that time no restriction on the establishment of private (landbased) television and radio stations.  He also warned that "The last free frequencies that are available would be taken away from the State." The Ministry also claimed that, far from being just a resident wishing to watch the offshore television station, Moshe Ankelevitz actually represented the project's backers

The Odelia  made a few further test transmissions in mid-July 1981, including pirated copies of films. When two major film companies warned the project's backers that they would take proceedings against them for using copyright material without permission the ship was ordered back to port where she stayed until August 1981.

The Order imposed on the Communications Ministry by the Court led to the submission of a proposed new law to the Economic Committee of the Knesset in July 1981. This law would prohibit Israeli citizens or Israeli owned ships from becoming involved in, or assisting, broadcasting at sea. This 'assistance' included all commercial involvement with the project, the provision of news, advertising and other services. Israeli citizens were also to be forbidden to travel to the offshore station, or give goods, including food, to the crews or finance their activities in any way. The only exception was to be in circumstances where there was a life-threatening emergency at sea.

MV Odelia at anchor off Israel

(Photo: Christopher Arundel)

Doran Ofrat, Chief Technician, in the Control Room on board Odelia

News Stand

Click on picture to enlarge

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