UK-bound shipment of african rainforest destruction stopped; ancient forests summit negotiations enter final phase

Press release - 15 April, 2002

Illegal logs

s the Ancient Forests Summit negotiations enter their final phase in the Hague, Greenpeace activists stopped a UK-bound shipment of timber from Central Africa´s threatened Forest of the Great Apes. Five Greenpeace climbers boarded the MV Roxane Delmas and attached themselves to the stern door of the ship in the mouth of Thames Estuary to prevent it from unloading its cargo at London´s Tilbury Docks. Activists painted the slogan 'Gorilla Killers´ on the side of the vessel.

"Tony Blair has promised that the UK will lead international action to protect the world´s ancient forests," said Andy Tait of the Greenpeace Forests Campaign. "But while he makes these promises UK delegates at the negotiations in the Hague keep silent. Ships like this one appear almost daily into UK ports, flooding the UK market with illegal and destructively logged timber from what´s left of the worlds ancient forests."

Investigations by Greenpeace indicate that the timber on board this ship includes sapele wood identical to that used in the doors and windows at the Government´s Cabinet Office in Whitehall (1). Other rainforest timber is also onboard. Greenpeace is demanding that this timber, from the destruction of one of the world´s remaining ancient forests, is returned to Cameroon, and that no more timber from ancient forest destruction is imported into the UK.

Speaking from the Ancient Forest Summit in the Hague, Gudrun Henne from Greenpeace said "There is a historic chance here in the Hague to shift the trend from destruction to saving the ancient forests. But the negotiations are blocked and the UK does not seem to care. While France and Germany showed leadership and announced concrete action, the UK is lagging behind. Greenpeace calls on the Minister of Environment of the UK, Michael Meacher, to help to rescue the Summit."

Greenpeace calls on governments to agree concrete international measures, an ancient forest task force, and money. This includes sustainable logging and green procurement policies so that the last ancient forests can be saved from destruction.

The African Forest of the Great Apes is being decimated by the logging industry, threatening the gorillas and chimpanzees that rely on the forests with extinction. Corruption and illegality is rife in the logging sector throughout the region. The situation is exacerbated by bushmeat hunters, using roads opened up by loggers for the slaughter of gorillas, chimpanzees and other mammals to sell as meat on the illegal market.

Illegal and destructive logging is being driven by demand for wood. The UK is one of the largest importing countries in Europe. Last week at Prime Minister´s "Question Time" Tony Blair claimed that all the sapele timber being used in the government´s Cabinet Office was certified. Greenpeace has been leaked documents that show that this is untrue, and prove that much of the timber comes from Vicwood-Thanry, one of the most notorious loggers in the region, whose timber is believed to be aboard this ship (2). Contrary to what Tony Blair has stated, there is no recognised forestry certification in the country (3).

As the Cameroonian Government themselves said about Vicwood-Thanry: "Logging as practised by this company puts in jeopardy the whole forestry policy and the sustainable management of our resources." Since March 2000, Vicwood-Thanry companies have been fined well over one billion Central African Francs (US$1.3m) for illegal activities. Evidence of bushmeat poaching has also recently been found on logging concessions operated by this company. (4)

Michael Meacher, the UK Environment Secretary, will this week attend the Convention on Biological Diversity (the Ancient Forests Summit) in the Hague, the Netherlands, where delegates representing world governments are meeting to decide upon the fate of the world´s remaining forests.

The most important political meeting relating to forest conservation since the Rio Earth Summit 10 years ago, the Ancient Forest Summit offers a critical opportunity for world governments to commit to action that will protect ancient forests and agree concrete objectives and measures in order to do so.

Notes: 1. NHG timber is the main UK agent for Vicwood-Thanry. According to documents passed to Greenpeace NHG supplied sapele timber from Vicwood-Thanry to East brothers, who then supplied £160,000 of this sapele for the Cabinet Office windows. Documents available from Greenpeace press office. 2. Report on Vicwood-Thanry available on request. 3. According to the Director of FSC UK “There is no FSC certified timber available from Cameroon at this time. Neither am I aware of any other independently certified timber under any other systems available from Cameroon.” 4. Documented by World Society for Protection of Animals and the German Development agency GTZ.