The next day, the three caged prison ships, the Ocean Vigour, the Runnymede Park, and the Empire Rival, departed Haifa with the Exodus passengers. 1,464 people were accommodated on the Ocean Vigour, around 1,409 on the Runnymede Park and 1,526 were crammed into the belly of the Empire Rival.
The refugees assumed they, as illegal emigrants, would be interned in camps on the island of Cyprus. What was initially a rumour was later confirmed: the three prison ships were sailing towards the European mainland, back towards France.
The conditions on board these ships were terrible. The refugees lay crammed together in the bare
holds of the freighters.
Noah Klieger remembers his impressions of the Empire Rival:
We slept, squeezed together, on the bare boards of the ship.
On all three ships groups were formed who, under Haganah command, began to build an organisation.
It was resolved that all passengers were to remain on board, and not disembark, on arriving in
The refugees were repeatedly encouraged to keep resisting. The success of these tactics was made more complicated in that communication between the three prison ships was not possible.