Ireland is the first stop in the maiden voyage of the ship which, under Dutch law, can perform abortions "where medically appropriate" once it remains moored 12 miles off the Irish coast. It will be equipped to do 20 abortions a day.
A Dutch pro-abortion group, the Women on Waves Foundation, is behind the ship. A medical team on board provides contraceptives, abortion information and training for doctors. It has security guards, and contains an abortion clinic on deck.
The team´s leader, Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, 34, a former ship´s doctor on the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior vessel, says her organization wants to highlight the consequences of unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion. The group also wants to draw attention to the Irish women who travel to Britain each year for abortions.
Mildred Fox, an independent and pro-life member of parliament for Wicklow, said the ship was a publicity stunt.
"If she [Gomperts] breaks the law, she will have to be dealt with," Fox said. "If she is providing information, she´s not providing any service that isn´t already there. But if she is actually carrying out abortions, you have to ask -- what´s next? Can we have a ship from the Netherlands selling drugs 12 miles offshore or carrying out euthanasia?"
Gomperts says Irish women using her offshore "services" cannot be prosecuted and neither can the service providers, because the procedures will be carried out under international law.
The ship was invited to visit Ireland by Irish pro-abortion groups, which are planning an extensive publicity campaign around its appearance.
John Smyth, a spokesman for the pro-life movement, said pro-lifers would be considering legal action against the ship´s activities but would not picket it. "What we will do is draw attention to how we feel crisis pregnancy can be best addressed," Smyth said. "Of course, we will look at the legal situation as well."
While it is docked in Dublin port, the ship will host a number of talks, workshops and creative events, including a film, a writers´ workshop and an arts exhibition. The ship may also visit Cork and Northern Ireland, although no dates have yet been scheduled.
Captain Bob Wiltshire, the harbor master, said he was not aware of the arrival of the ship. "She would be treated like any other commercial ship," he said. "I don´t imagine berthing would be a problem."