Rainbow Warrior confronts US military shipment

Feature story - 20 February, 2003
Rotterdam harbour was the latest scene of opposition to the military build-up in the Gulf. Activists in canoes and inflatables attempted to prevent a cargo ship loaded with US military equipment, from leaving port. Read a first hand account from the scene.

Greenpeace activists are over powered by a policeboat as they try to prevent the Dutch hired vessel NDS Progress from leaving her berth in Rotterdam harbour.

I am on board the Rainbow Warrior in Rotterdam harbour, we are currently along side a cargo ship loaded with US war supplies headed for the Gulf. We have been here since seven this morning and already many activists have been arrested, but the Rainbow Warrior is holding its position and we are blocking the ship from leaving port and heading for war. Despite huge European opposition in public and political circles, military equipment is flowing freely through the continent on its way to the Gulf.

We traveled through the night, straight off an action in Antwerp harbour where we tried to block a US military cargo ship from loading with supplies for the war. When we arrived in Rotterdam this morning the police had already surrounded the area. In fact, as I was getting dressed in all my wooly clothes, I looked out the port hole and could see a police van following us along the shore.

We are determined to do everything we can to stop this relentless march to war. Not only would it make the world a more volatile and dangerous place, it'd also be illegal, disastrous and immoral.

As we arrived along side the cargo ship Progress that loaded war supplies through the night to be ready for departure this morning, the sun was just peaking over the horizon, a bright ball of red flame to light our way and warm our activists.

The Rainbow Warrior was joined by three Greeenpeace inflatable boats that can from further up the harbour, they immediately tried to get activists in to position to climb up the stern of the Progress, but the police inflatables were on top of them blocking their way.

We also launched two inflatable canoes into the water from the Rainbow Warrior. What I can only describe as chaos ensued. Our inflatables continued to try to get climbers onto the cargo ship while the canoes distracted the police. Eventually one of the climbers got close enough to the stern of the ship and began to climb, only seconds passed before the police picked up the climber and arrested him.

The Dutch police and US military personel on the cargo ship and key side turned high powered water cannon on the activists. Not long after that the police picked up one of the canoes and arrested the two Brits who were paddling. The other canoe returned to the ship, there was a swift tidal current and it is bloody cold out there with the wind. The police then began to round up our other activists and inflatables in the water.

A police inflatable aggressively rammed one of our inflatable boats, the police boarded it and two of the activists jumped into the water. They were wearing survival suits that kept them dry and warm and they were able to swim to shore where shortly we had another inflatable pick them up and they are now safely back on board.

While all this was going on a police boat crossed the bow of the Rainbow Warrior, only a few metres away, the Captain radioed the police that they had just made a very dangerous move crossing so close in front of the bow. The police boat then came along the starboard side and rammed the Rainbow Warrior several times. I was on the bridge when people started shouting they are going to board, the police are getting ready to board. The doors to the bridge were locked, all hatches and portholes secured.

I heard the anchor chain start to go down, but we couldn't get it all the way down before the police boat started pushing the Rainbow Warrior out of the way. The police asked permission to come a board and it was denied. They told us if we went within the yellow buoys closer to the cargo ship, the Rainbow Warrior would be seized and everyone arrested.

Meanwhile we managed to get another three small inflatable boats for the Rainbow Warrior in the water. They were all within the yellow buoys and three inflatable police boats began to chase them, but they have not been able to catch them yet.

We are currently holding our position and the police have not yet come on board, but we expect them to come on board any time.

We have managed to block the cargo ship for four hours now, but we can see more supplies for war arriving on the dock. Although this is the first ship loaded with war supplies from the Netherlands to the Gulf, it is not expected to be the last.

President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have cited Iraq's suspected possession of weapons of mass destruction as a justification for an invasion, yet the US and the UK have some of the world's biggest arsenals of such weapons. They have made it clear they will not refrain from using their weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and would even consider using nuclear weapons although the International Court of Justice has ruled that threatening nuclear war is illegal.

We want the Dutch government to stop aligning itself with those countries intent on war and to start listening to the views of its people and to team up with other European countries that favour a peaceful solution to the present crisis in the Middle East.

Stay tuned.

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.