Port of Miami denies Greenpeace ship berth space

Feature story - 27 October, 2003
Our work in the Amazon continues after a successful campaign to expose gross illegalities in Brazil's mahogany trade. In November 2002, we achieved an historic victory when governments of the world agreed to give the highly vulnerable and sought-after tree greater international protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. But corruption, the silencing of dissent, forced labor, and murder are still commonplace within the Amazon basin's remote forest products business.

MV Esperanza.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Greenpeace, Inc., is being criminally prosecuted by the Bush administration. In an unprecedented prosecution, the entire organization has been charged under an archaic law for a protest in which Greenpeace activists boarded a ship that was bound for the Port of Miami with a cargo of illegally logged mahogany. The activists carried a banner reading, "President Bush: Stop Illegal Logging".

The MV Esperanza is also in the US, fresh from a tour of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska where Greenpeace activists were documenting the clearcuts and damage done by poor logging practices. The ship also supported a cave expedition, which mapped and explored caves under the forest. Logging above is limited by regulation to protect the caves below, but many of these caves aren't officially "on the map", so loggers and federal officials conveniently ignore them.

After the Alaska tour, it's only natural for the MV Esperanza to visit Miami. Greenpeace has a lot of supporters there, and it's where the trial is taking place. At first there were no problems, just a routine request for dock space. Then, suddenly, the authorities informed Greenpeace that the Esperanza would not be allowed into port. They cited the outstanding court case that the Bush administration is pursuing, and claimed a "security risk".

But wait a minute. Greenpeace hasn't even been convicted yet. What happened to innocent until proven guilty? And no doubt ships belonging to corporations with criminal records dock in Miami all of the time. What about companies transporting illegal mahogany, for example? That's apparently OK with the authorities. But boarding a ship to blow the whistle on those companies - that the Port of Miami doesn't like.

Here's a question for the Miami port authorities: Which is more dangerous, a chemical (or oil) tanker owned by a company with a poor criminal/safety record? Or a ship owned by an organization with a 31-year reputation for taking peaceful action to highlight environmental issues?

Judging from the official response to our arrival, Greenpeace and our environmental message appear to pose a grave threat. The following account is from one of our folks in Miami:

Even before the Esperanza had dropped anchor, the following were on scene:

  • A US Coast Guard vessel with approx 20 officials on board, Customs and Immigration.
  • One US Coast Guard Jet
  • One marine Safety helicopter which stayed on the scene circling
  • Two TV helicopters documenting the situation
  • Our charter vessel with photo/video
  • The Tug carrying the agent and Captain Bob Graham
  • Two law enforcement vessels (armed) from Fish and Wildlife
  • And a poor guy who was quietly trying to fish......
The US Coast Guard personnel ( all of them) boarded the ship. Crew were told to all muster on the heli deck and later they were all detained in the Bridge while paperwork and inspections carried out.

The charter boat we were on was then detained by Fish and Wildlife. They made a safety inspection and took all our identification to process through computers. During this time, the Marine Safety heli took videos of us all. The captain was given a citation for not having the name of the boat displayed...

We have been denied permission to carry press or visitors in our inflatables to and from shore.

The Port of Miami and Mayor's office is being inundated by calls from people objecting to the decision to refuse us entry. So much so, they are NOT taking calls and only faxes...

Greenpeace has agreed to compromise on any security measures the port requires, but continues to be stonewalled. Now we are taking our case to the county authorities.

More information and the latest on Greenpeaceusa.org.