The flotilla boat Tiama heading out to bear witness to passage through the Pacific of BNFL's nuclear cargo freighters
All the Pacific flotilla boats are sailing away in their own
different directions now. Nanu, Phantom and Fio-oko to New
Caledonia, Moontide, Love of Gaia and Kailea are heading back to
Australia. Joie back to New Zealand to have their engine sorted out
one more time, and Ranui is heading back to Vanuatu to continue
with the medical aid program that they are involved in there.
Here on Tiama, we're heading for Norfolk island and then on to
Fiji to be a flotilla presence at the Pacific Island Forum that is
being held in Suva between 13 and 16 August. All the heads of
governments in the region will come together and we will try to
help make the Plutonium shipments a topic of conversation during
So while we sail, here's a perspective on how the flotilla
looked from the water.
Most of the flotilla boats met for the first time in the mid
Tasman on July 18th. On the first day we were becalmed and we had a
bit of a social getting to know each other onboard Tiama with a few
drinks and nibbles. The next day we had a long skippers meeting in
the morning discussing our options and it was again clearly decided
not to hinder the ships' passage in any form, and to just be a
presence on the water to bear witness to the passage of these ships
of death through our region.
In the afternoon we tried some formation sailing and got some
real good photos of all the boats in line, which were used in the
media later on.
Saturday July 20th saw us getting ready for the big meeting with
the two plutonium ships. We had another long series of meetings
working out the logistics of where everybody should be and the
co-ordinates for every boat; at the end of the day we had it sorted
as much as one can ever sort something like this given the numerous
options that can come into it with so many variables. It is a bit
like trying to cook a nice cake with a whole bunch of unknown
By Sunday 21 July 0400 hours we were all in position, and almost
totally still. It was a nice night and we were settling in for the
long wait. By 0900 we were starting to think that maybe the
plutonium ships had slipped into the Economic Exclusive Zone of
Australia or come past us already.
However there was only one thing to do for the flotilla and that
was maintain our line of position so we all bobbed around on our
little patch of ocean trying to stay in one place as much as
possible (given wind, weather and currents).
It continued to be a nice sunny Sunday, and life was good,
besides all the worrying going on, (I'm convinced that I got some
more grey hairs out of this one).
By late afternoon it was clear the ships had slowed right down,
almost going in circles to wait for darkness before they came close
to the flotilla. This was unbelievable - we had effectively blocked
the Tasman as a route (during daylight hours at least) by the mere
presence of 10 yachts that were spread eight miles apart from each
other across an 80 mile line!
This was hard to believe but true, the two plutonium ships
obviously had something to hide that could not bear the light of
day. It was unreal and hard to comprehend.
Now we had a Mid-Tasman stand off between 10 little peace boats
and two 100-meter long armed freighters who had around 10 miles of
sea room between every boat to pass in between. No matter how many
scenarios we had thought of we never thought of this one.
It became obvious that they were stalling and wanted to sneak
through our line at night under the cover of darkness, how sneaky
can you get ???
So the flotilla decided that we were rather effective and to
maintain out positions and keep our eyes wide open during the
night. We agreed to keep a good radar watch and in doing so we
became a radar screen 80 miles wide. We settled in for the night
again expecting them to come through at the darkest and most sleepy
And yes, true to form these guys showed up at 0100 Monday
morning. It was a bit of a surprise because nobody had seen them on
radar yet. One of the crew was having a wee pee on the aft deck and
through his sleepy eyes he saw these two lights appear on the
horizon, he had to rub the sleep out of his eyes to make sure, but
yes our friends were coming up right behind us and Fio-oko steaming
We had a bit of a scramble getting the big inflatable on the
road, all actions stations... their plan of sneaking through our
line in the dark did not work very well as it was a nice clear
night with lots of stars and a 3/4 moon illuminating the scene.
Tiama got to within 1.5 miles of the ships as they increased speed
from nine knots to 13 knots when they knew that they had been
sighted by us.
We called them up on radio stating again that we did not intend
to interfere with their passage but that we were here to bear
witness to the passing of these plutonium shipments and that we
wanted them stopped. In typical fashion they refused to acknowledge
any of our calls.
The big inflatable was the only vessel of the fleet that could
keep up with them and they followed them until first light, during
the night the weather changed for the worse with heavy rain squalls
and the wind picked up from the south west 15 to 20 knots. This
meant a head wind for the small boat and it was not a pleasant ride
on a fast inflatable anymore, it became more a matter of hanging on
tight and staying with it, which they did.
At first light we at least could take a picture of the ships,
which is of course exactly the thing that they had been trying to
avoid by coming through at night. In the end the two plutonium
ships changed course so that they were 13 miles apart, in that way
we could not take a picture of both ships together. One wonders
what it is that these guys have to hide ?
At about 0800 two volunteers from the flotilla jumped in the
water on the port side of the ship (in this way making sure not to
get in their way) and held up a banner with the nuclear free seas
logo and the slogan NUCLEAR FREE PACIFIC on it. So in the end we
did get some good pictures that were used worldwide.
The rest of the day was spent transferring gear and people and
boats back to their various different homes on the water, while we
were doing this the weather did not improve and we had a bit of a
moment recovering the inflatable back onboard Tiama. At one point
it seemed that we might have to tow it back to Norfolk upside down
but it all worked out.
So today is a good day to catch up on some sleep, all the
flotilla boats had a good radio sked last night, we actually never
even physically saw Joie or Ranui as they literally arrived on the
eleventh hour, Ranui came all the way down from Vanuatu a good 1000
miles and arrived half a day before we formed our line, and Joie
came all the way from New Zealand with great difficulty because
they had some engine problems They arrived one hour before we
started to form our line in the water, talk about timing.
So we never had a chance to see them but we knew they were there
playing their part in this great effort to stop these shipments
form sailing on the oceans.
During all this we did have some magical moments like when some
humpback whales appeared out of nowhere and stayed with us for the
rest of the day and well into the night playing around the flotilla
boats, this did seem like a sign that we were on the right track
Also when the two ships appeared out of the darkness at 0100 in
the middle of the night with lots of moonlight we had a moonbow (a
sort of rainbow made by the moonlight and water vapour in the sky)
appearing just behind them seeming to indicate the position where
the ships were!
So now it is over to the Irish flotilla to do their thing in the
Irish Sea. It would be good to be there, but we can not quite make
it there in time with our boats (sorry about that), the best of
luck to the sailors in the Irish flotilla ... our thoughts will be
Also lots of respect for the boats and crew of the Cape Horn
flotilla who were on standby ready to go out into the Drake passage
until it became clear that the ships would come through the Tasman,
and not round the Horn, thanks for being there.
All in all this has been an amazing experience, the way all the
people on the boats worked together and were committed to doing
this in the winter time mid Tasman. It is a continuing source of
amazement and inspiration, and not to forget all the people working
very hard in the background to make this all happen. Thank you for
all your work.
I surely hope that we can make this the last shipment that is
ever to take place.
Kind regards to all of you on behalf of all the boat crews that
are out here.
Kia Kaha (standing strong)
(Currently bobbing around on a nice boat running with the wind
to Norfolk Island)