Day of reckoning nears in the Pacific

Feature story - July 21, 2002
Eleven small boats aim to show that the people of the Pacific do not want dangerous nuclear transports putting the whole Pacific at risk

Greenpeace and Nuclear Free Seas Flotilla between Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands in the Tasman Sea wait for the two armed nuclear freighters The Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal to deliver their protest message.

Three year old JJ is already a seasoned sailor but this weekend is going to be special even for the youngest crew member of the "Love of Gaia", a 16.3 metre yacht from Australia. Together with 11 other boats, and more than 35 crew from as close as New Zealand and Vanuatu and as far away as Poland and the UK, JJ is waiting mid-Tasman Sea for his chance to protest against a shipment of dangerous nuclear transport through the Pacific region.

A typical day on Love of Gaia starts with an organic espresso for those on the 6 am watch, followed by soggy Weetabix for JJ. Every morning there has been a regular radio link up with the other flotilla boats and now they are all in one spot, the chance to meet face to face with their fellow sailors. JJ's dad, Skipper Inigo Wijnen is no stranger to adventure - in 1993 he sailed single-handedly from the Netherlands to Australia in a Proa catamaran. Inigo heard about the Nuclear Free Seas Flotilla on the grapevine and was intrigued.

"The world's nuclear industry is running like a car without brakes. It makes me scared for my children that this madness goes on unchecked and our kids will have to live with the consequences when the crash finally happens."

Across on Nanu, a boat from New Zealand, nine year old Sylvain and sister Sophia are having to watch videos upside down - at first the crew thought they had bad quality tapes but they are just extremely sensitive to waves. On the way to the Tasman, dolphins visited Nanu twice, Fio-Oko spied sperm whales; both boats had an escort of Storm Petrels, Albatross and other seabirds.

Nanu had already set one rule for the flotilla participants -- any boat arriving at the rendezvous point late has to come up with a bottle of rum for every 12 hours they are late! But there is little chance of too many drunken sailors -- all the boats are now in position after great support from communities in the nearby islands of Norfolk and Lord Howe. Tiama, a yacht from New Zealand, was given a big bag of fresh island fruit as a send-off by locals, while local people on Lord Howe joined a small demonstration on the island to support the flotilla earlier this week.

The flotilla's protest at the plutonium shipment is not alone. In the last few days, several Pacific Island nations have reacted with outrage after the "Pacific Pintail" and her dangerous cargo breached their 200 mile maritime zones. The Pintail passed just 40 nautical miles (72 kilometres) from Pohnpei, the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia, in spite of the country's explicit demand that the ship stay outside its waters. Vanuatu has said it is "livid" over the shipment passing through its zone, and said it was disrespectful of the sovereignty and dignity of Vanuatu and its long support for a nuclear free Pacific. Meanwhile, the New Zealand Foreign Minister, Mr Phil Goff has strongly reiterated his country's opposition to the shipment through the Pacific and is putting up Orion aircraft to track the "Pintail" to ensure it does not enter New Zealand's 200 mile zone. The Cook Islands Government has supported calls for the region to ban plutonium shipments through the Pacific. And Fiji's Prime Minister was loudly applauded earlier this week when he told a summit of Western and African, Caribbean and Pacific leaders that all the South Pacific countries opposed the passage of nuclear ships through the Pacific and called for other states to join the Pacific in "expressing our outrage and opposition to those who are so willing to put the Pacific and our peoples at risk".