We arrived in Senegal at Dakar airport on 24 Feb 2010. Our colleague Prudence had travelled a couple days prior and had organized airport pick up. A big help considering the flight arrived at few minutes after midnight. My suitcase had a handle broken and some items missing, when travelling from Oliver Tambo Airport something is bound to happen to your luggage. I was to be part of the first ship tour for Greenpeace Africa we’re doing research on European vessels fishing along the coast of West Africa between Senegal and Mauritania.
I had a great night’s sleep at hotel Oceanium. On the 25th February, we went to the marine agent to hear what we needed to do to have people board the Arctic Sunrise (AS) and those who wanted to disembark. We were told all those wanting to board needed to bring their passports to have the Senegalese immigration department process their passage onto the ship. Those who wanted to come on shore needed to obtain shore passes, this took a whole day to process.
I was anxious to board the AS because this was a wow moment in my life. The ships play a huge role in actions done by Greenpeace, our roots are grounded in the ships - our first ship the Phyllis Cormack sailed to Amticka in 71 to protest against nuclear testing in the first ever Greenpeace action.
We met up on Thursday evening with the local fisherman who are our eyes on the sea. They are passionate about joining us on this expedition, and they know where European vessels fish off the West Coast of Africa. One of them said. “It is important to look after our sea, especially the fish as I want my kids to live off the sea, as I and my grandfather did and those before my time.”
Due to overfishing by the big ships the fisherman are forced to go out further at sea, which puts them at great risk, as the canoes are not equipped to deal with the rough sea. “A lot of our youngsters are no longer interested in fishing because the catches are getting smaller every day” they added. They feel that going to Europe as a stow away is a better way of living, little do they know about the realities of crossing borders illegally. The local fishermen do not mind spending four weeks at sea showing us where the trawlers fish. The local fisherman have all the intelligence on the happenings at sea. Due to bureaucracy the fisherman will only be able to join us on the second leg of the ship tour. Yes in Africa we must be patient when it comes to processes that involve government offices. I need to learn to be patient and humble….
Documentation was processed late so we all boarded the ship at 6.00pm on 27 February 2010. The AS left with 23 people on board. I was anxious as this is my first trip on a ship and I did not know what to expect. As the ship left the port and began rocking I felt a sense of feeling dizzy and an unsettled stomach. Everything was swaying to and fro- (sea sickness), despite having taken medication to ease the impact.
Saturday 28th was a great day. We managed to see three sperm whales and a couple of dolphins putting on a majestic display! Dolphins do love attention they are like children in many ways. It set me thinking that if a big trawler had come this way these creatures could become by catch. Tears filled my eyes at the thought. This is why this trip is so important for us, as it will allow us to document the happenings under our nose along our coast.
Sunday 1st March is quiet we were hoping to catch up with one of the European trawlers that had been sighted from the air by our team leader two days prior to our hitting the water. The campaigners spent the greater part of the morning learning how to launch the small inflatable boats. Which is how they will be able to approach fishing vessels at sea. Today in the early hours of the morning we spotted a Moroccan vessel very rusted and haggard with lots of people on board who waved at us. I wonder if it was a fishing vessel or one of those carrying refugees. It is evening no trawler in sight……We wait to see what happens tomorrow.