The humanitarian aid ship Open Arms finally set sail on Tuesday accompanied by another vessel, inaugurating the operation of the ‘Amalthea’ Larnaca to Gaza sea corridor.

President Nikos Christodoulides and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called it a mission of hope.

Christodoulides, in a post on platform X, said the Cyprus maritime corridor initiative was one of “hope and humanity” and a “lifeline for civilians”.

Von der Leyen in her tweet, thanked Christodoulides for his leadership, saying, “the departure of the first ship is a sign of hope. We will work hard together for many more ships to follow. We will do everything in our power for aid to reach Palestinians.”

At the plenary of the European parliament in Strasburg von der Leyen said the maritime corridor was “the result of unprecedented cooperation and the leadership of [the President]”.

She also announced that an EU coordination team will arrive in Cyprus to finance and guide the provision of goods.

“We have worked hand in hand not only with Cyprus but also with the United Arab Emirates, the United States and the United Kingdom,” she said, mentioning that she had visited the port of Larnaca on Friday to watch the final preparations.

Remarking that this is the first time a ship has been authorised to deliver aid to Gaza since 2005, she noted that providing humanitarian aid was not enough and that a ceasefire was necessary.

Later in the day, government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis also hailed the Amalthea plan as a proof of Cyprus’ “excellent level of relations with all directly involved parties.

“Our country has created, presented and implemented an additional tool available to the international community to complement existing and future aid channels, the full implementation of which requires the cooperation of regional and international actors,” Letymbiotis said.

“Our efforts will continue and intensify, with the aim of further strengthening the humanitarian aid sent to the civilian population of Gaza.”

When asked to comment on a report claiming that Israel is interested in purchasing a port in Cyprus, the spokesman said that “the claim is unfounded”, adding that the publication that first broke the story, Israeli news outlet Yedioth Ahronoth “lacks credibility”.

The ship, carrying almost 200 tonnes of food, left for Gaza shortly before 9am.

The trip is expected to take two days and the vessel will carry an MMS Aris floating unit, as Gaza has no port structure. The ship is escorted by another smaller vessel, reportedly for security purposes.

If successful, the mission will signal the first easing of an Israeli naval blockade imposed on Gaza in 2007 after Hamas took control of the Palestinian enclave.

Although the journey can take as little as 15 hours and Cyprus is just 322km north-west of the destination, the vessel is expected to take longer due to the heavy tow barge. The barge is loaded with rice, flour, pulses, canned vegetables and protein, to be delivered to the enclaved Palestinian population living under conditions of starvation.

In an announcement on X, the US-based NGO World Central Kitchen (WCK), to whom the boat belongs, said the group was working alongside the UAE and Cyprus foreign ministry to send as many aid boats as possible.

In a statement to Reuters, WCK founder Jose Andres and chief executive officer Erin Gore said the goal is to “establish a maritime highway of boats and barges stocked with millions of meals continuously headed towards Gaza.”

WCK said it has a further 500 tonnes of aid in Cyprus ready for dispatch.

The cargo was finally dispatched after a four-day delay due to technical difficulties, relating to the unloading of the shipment in Gaza.

Information later emerged that the departure of the ship had to be re-evaluated as a US-built temporary pier, to be constructed at the landing site in Gaza in lieu of a port and dock, was not ready.

WCK has said it was creating a landing jetty in Gaza with material from destroyed buildings and rubble. This is a separate initiative from that announced by the US.

Cargoes are to undergo security inspections in Cyprus by a team including personnel from Israel, eliminating the need for screenings at its final offloading point, according to Reuters. Letymbiotis said on Monday that Israeli checks of the vessel has been carried out “in accordance with all the protocols included in the initiative’s planning.”

Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos on Monday also announced that the arrival of a second aid vessel was awaited and that the country aims to play a key role in the post-war reconstruction of Palestine.

Christodoulides was reported to have called his counterpart in the UAE Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed on Monday evening to thank him, saying his support was “catalytic [for] the initiative’s implementation”.