Syrian Ship Towed to Haifa Bay Skips Town Without Paying Bill

A Syrian freighter, towed to Haifa in distress last week, skipped town without paying its bills to the repair yard that patched up its leaky hull.

The 400-ton motorship Kayess and its crew of six sailed Wednesday with a certificate of seaworthiness from the Haifa Port Authority before the Gal Yam shipyards could obtain a court injunction blocking its departure.

Port police had told the ship’s captain, Abdul Kadr Mansur, that the ship could leave, as the Transport Ministry’s Shipping and Port Administration had certified the vessel’s fitness. The Israel Defense Force had also given permission.

The captain had entertained police officers in his cabin before setting off, to thank them for their help.

But Ilan Nixon, one of the owners of the shipyard, said there had been several hundred thousand dollars worth of repairs to the ship’s cracked hull.

He said talks with the Kayess’ owners had been “positive” until now. But they could get bogged down in prolonged litigation with creditors in Syria and Lebanon, countries with which Israel is technically at war.

The only course seemed to be for the navy to intercept the Kayess at sea and detain it, pending payment of bills. But the authorities quickly ruled that out because it would create an international incident.

For a while, Gal Yam thought it could achieve partial compensation by selling the ship’s cargo, mainly fresh fruit and vegetables, which the Kayess left behind. It was offloaded to lighten the vessel so repairs could be made without putting it in dry dock.

But that hope was dashed when agriculture and health ministry officials barred the vegetables from the Israeli market. They originated in Egypt, where crops are commonly irrigated with untreated sewage and could pose a health hazard.

The Kayess, enroute from Alexandria to Beirut, was towed to Haifa by Israeli navy missile boats in a sinking condition after sending out a distress signal. The episode demonstrated that the maritime tradition of saving lives applies even between enemy countries.

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