(Watch 'Saving Sumatra')
Being a part of a Greenpeace ship tour is never boring. Generally, you expect the unexpected, and then you're surprised. But even by ship tour standards, the Rainbow Warrior's recent 'tour' of Indonesia was an interesting one.
It started with high hopes that our peaceful campaigning ship would be able to support the Indonesian president's stated aims of ending deforestation in Indonesia. It ended with the Rainbow Warrior being denied vital supplies and being ordered – and escorted – out of Indonesian waters and well into international waters by two navy vessels, in breach of international maritime law.
Amrit, a deckhand from India on board the Rainbow Warrior, explains what happened:
The Rainbow Warrior II was supposed to dock in Jakarta on the 13th of October. We were hoping to be visited by high level officials from Indonesia. However, none of it ever happened. On October 13 we were told by the port control of Indonesia that we weren't allowed to enter due to lack of permission. It was a bit surprising, but we were not too alarmed.
However as the days progressed, it seemed likely that there was more willingness to keep us out of Indonesia than get us into it. The ship apparently had to get permission from the Ministry of External Affairs, which was being pondered over. They pondered over and over and over. Today is the 21st of October and they are still pondering. Meanwhile, rainforests keep on being destroyed.
We were running out of food (environmental activists have a rather good appetite, you know). So, on the 20th of October we were told we could approach the port and take food supplies (by boat). The government had apparently allowed us to enter the anchorage and resupply. Walter, our excellent cook, had big dreams of tomatoes and vegetables and curry and soup, which were shattered by two Indonesian navy vessels on the horizon. If only the government could act as quickly on stopping deforestation as they did in getting the navy ships to visit us.
The Warrior was coming here to promote solutions to deforestation and climate change; Indonesia's forests are disappearing at one of the world's fastest rates, making it the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after the US and China.
There was no reason to suspect she wouldn't be allowed in. Until now, Greenpeace's ships have always been allowed into the country. Five years ago, the Rainbow Warrior was here assisting in the tsunami relief effort with MSF, captained by the same captain whose now been ordered out of Indonesia under military escort.
What's more, just a few months ago, Indonesia's President Yudhoyono said he welcomed working in partnership with non-governmental organisations, including Greenpeace, to end deforestation. And he recently announced a two year moratorium on forest destruction in Indonesia as part of a US $1 billion deal with Norway, which could create the single largest climate mitigation and adaptation project in the world – if successful.
We are campaigning to make sure the deal succeeds, that it includes the millions of hectares of rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands that have already been parcelled out for logging, and not just new logging concessions. In short, we're campaigning alongside Indonesian NGOs and civil society for a new green development pathway and zero deforestation in Indonesia by 2015.
So why wasn't the Rainbow Warrior let in? The honest answer is that we don't know, for sure. The government has given us no official reason.
But we do know that we've been working – with significant success - to expose the rapid expansion of the palm oil and pulp and paper sectors into Indonesia's rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands. And we do know that the notorious forest-destroyer, Sinar Mas, is expanding its plantations while claiming that it does not destroy forests.
So it seems very possible that there are some things that short-sighted political and economic interests did not want us – or you – to see, and that Indonesia's government capitulated to these vested interests.
We did see it though. Last weekend, a Greenpeace team flew over Sumatra to bear witness to the forest destruction first hand. As you'll see, the destruction of Indonesia's rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands is real and very much ongoing:
If you'd like to help our campaign to stop the destruction of Indonesia's rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands – which also means the destruction of habitats for endangered species like the orang-utan and the Sumatran tiger, of the homes and livelihoods of indigenous communities and of the global climate – the best thing you can do right now is to share this photo essay: help us to get the word out about the ongoing rainforest destruction that Sinar Mas doesn't want you to know about.
I'll leave you with some words from Von Hernandez, Greenpeace South East Asia's Executive Director, on the Rainbow Warrior's hasty ejection from Indonesia, sent as an open letter to Indonesia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
The Rainbow Warrior is a peaceful environmental campaigning vessel. She has been sailing for Greenpeace for the
past 21 years and is known for being a vital part of our work to promote environmental protection in every region of the world.
Alarming for us are developments this morning, when our ship agent was prevented from delivering emergency food and provisions to our crew by the Indonesian Navy. This runs counter to the spirit and intent of existing international maritime agreements which seek to provide welfare and services for all seafarers irrespective of nationality, religion, political opinion or social origin. As a democratic country, we find it disturbing that the Indonesian government has chosen to adopt this unreasonably uncompromising and inflexible stance against our campaigning vessel and her crew...
We regret that our campaign to support the achievement of President Yudhoyono’s vision with the help of the Rainbow Warrior II is being set aside seemingly in favor of short-sighted political and economic interests. Aside from signifying the government’s capitulation to these vested interests, the government’s refusal in allowing entry for the Rainbow Warrior casts a dark shadow on Indonesia’s reputation as a robust and genuine democracy where peaceful freedom of expression is observed and guaranteed. Worse, given the Rainbow Warrior’s strong track record in environmental campaigning, the government’s stance serves to fuel concerns that the permitting system is being abused to serve the interests of those who stand to gain from the destruction of the environment.