Instruments of war on the move

Feature story - 17 February, 2003
Greenpeace activist Tracy got a plankton's eye view of a US war machine as it entered Antwerp harbour to load up with supplies bound for the Gulf. The dock is lined with tanks, helicopters, jeeps and other military supplies and every day ships are coming, loading and heading straight for certain war. Join the millions saying no to war.

Ten Greenpeace activists climbed onto the harbour's lock gates and sealed it shut to prevent four ships loaded with US military equipment bound for the Gulf leaving the harbour and a US navy vessel entering it to be loaded.

The sun was just setting as we got into the boats. Five small inflatables heading out for a rendez-vous with a massive military ship. The Rainbow Warrior was following close behind. It was our latest attempt to stop the build up to war, we wanted to prevent four ships loaded with US military equipment bound for the Gulf from leaving the harbour and a US navy vessel from entering it to be loaded.

Already 10 activists were at the locks that the ships must pass through into the harbour to load. The activists climbed onto one of the harbour's lock gates and sealed it shut. We approached from the opposite side and attempted to block the entrance to the locks.

As we arrived the sun had set and a bright yellow full moon was reaching into the sky. The police were already at the locks.

We maneuvered around the entrance in our boats for a short period trying to find the right spot and time to enter, and at last I heard those words that always make my heart jump: "Go, go, go!" We raced towards the lock entrance and one of the climbers attempted to climb up to the lock bridge, but police were already waiting at the top of the wall. Other activists set to painting "No War" on the walls of the locks.

We were not there long when I heard someone say over the radio that the US military ship was approaching the locks. At first we could barely see it through the thick darkness and numerous small lights that dotted the opposite side of the canal, but as it moved closer it revealed itself to be a monster of a ship being moved into place by two large tug boats. All that stood between the giant military ship and the locks were five small Greenpeace inflatable boats.

We stayed at the entrance to the lock as the military ship was slowly maneuvered into position. Our small boat got quite close to the ship and it wasn't long before we had a large police boat in our path and a helicopter buzzing above us with their spot light on our boat.

Shortly a different police boat, another inflatable, came to us and said we better get out of the way, the military ship would not stop for anything, and they quickly vacated the area. This is when I began to worry. But the rest of the activists in my boat seemed calm and confident, or perhaps it was just too dark to see if they were worried as well.

As the tug boats moved the ship swiftly and expertly into the locks, the unimaginably large hull of the ship sweep by us and all five of our inflatable made it safely out of the way. But the stand off was not over.

As soon as the military ship was in the lock and had come to a stop, we raced forward into the locks with them and zoomed in front of the large steel doors that slide across to close the lock. We were not going to let this military ship move on and load up for war without a fight.

Shortly the police were back on the scene and working hard to get us out of the lock.

We take safety so seriously that it sometimes shocks us a bit the way police behave in these situations. The large police boat repeatedly rammed into the small inflatable boats. Once, as it came close to our boat, a man with a hook on the end of a pole jabbed the sharp end into our inflatable. Luckily no damage was done and no one was injured.

Eventually the policed turned the water hoses on our boats to try to move us out of the path of the lock doors. One of our inflatables did not budge from the spot. But eventually the large police boat and inflatable were able to push our inflatables out of the lock and the gates began to close. We got out of the way. A small Greenpeace inflatable is no match for a giant steel lock door.

We stopped the military ship from loading tonight, but there will be more. There is a constant stream of military equipment going out of Antwerp harbour despite the Belgian government's claim that they do not support the war. Yet I remain hopeful. Millions of people marched around the world this past weekend against a war on Iraq, and although there were only about 30 of us out against the military ship tonight, we know we're in good company in opposing this war.

Our toes may now be numb from the cold, but are hearts are warm and our spirits restless - let's all keep the pressure on for peace.

Read the press release.

What you can do

Write to the UN ambassadors that sit on the Security Council and ask them to uphold international law and refuse to approve a war in Iraq.

Write to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and ask him to oppose war in Iraq and to refuse to allow UK troops to be used in such a war.

If you live in the US, consider calling on your city council to pass a resolution against a war with Iraq. Twenty cities across the US have already passed similar resolutions and efforts are underway in dozens more communities. For more information, visit, www.citiesforpeace.org.

Join our campaign against ExxonMobil/ Esso, the world's biggest oil company. For more information, visit www.stopesso.org.

Get more ideas for getting involved from www.moveon.org , www.protest.net and www.targetoil.com.