Last night I awoke from my rambling slumber to the sound of alarms going off, a high-pitched tone, piercing the darkness in the middle of the night. It was nothing major, just the engineers alarm, so I went back to sleep. A couple of hours later it goes off again and I hear my cabin mate swearing in the darkness as he goes off to inspect what ever it is he’s being warned about a second time.
At 7.30am our daily wake up call rouses us like clockwork, routine is our daily bread and we eat it up eternally. I get up and go out on deck to inspect the day. As per usual, I’m greeted once again by a seemingly endless expanse of blue, an army of waves marching in chaotic order across thousands of miles of ocean.
It’s been days since we last saw land. We are heading out and around the Chagos Archipelago, home to the worlds largest marine reserve, created under somewhat dubious circumstances by the British and also home to an American Military base. The local people have been forcibly removed and displaced in the name of ‘Western Security’ and are fighting for their return. Keep in mind that your freedom comes at the expense of some one else’s.
We are also getting into pirate country now. We are on constant standby alert, ready to execute emergency procedures at a moments notice. Pirates are not people you want to meet on the high seas. We all have childhood visions of swash buckling, loveable rouges brandishing cutlasses and swigging on 40oz bottles of rum but these days pirates in this region have high-speed boats, carry AK-47’s and rocket launchers. We have taken many precautions to minimize the likelihood of coming across any and the chances are very low but this does not mean we can afford to be complacent in our attitude.
We have come across pirates in some form though, pirate fisherman that is. Fishing boats that prowl the borders of other countries Exclusive Economic Zones and plunder the high seas without restraint or regard for the long-term management of fisheries for the future. They take everything and that’s why Greenpeace is in the Indian Ocean.
This voyage is a look, listen and learn expedition. We are here to talk with government officials, NGO’s and fisherman. To hear their concerns, excuses, plans etc from small-scale local operations all the way up to the big multi-national industrial scale ones.
I joined the ship in Durban, South Africa and travelled up to Mozambique where we patrolled the Mozambique Channel between the African Continent and Madagascar. We then headed for Mauritius and met with many different people with many different interests in the local fisheries. We are now heading towards the Maldives and then on to Sri Lanka where the campaign finishes.
It’s hard work with long days and weeks spent out at sea. You can’t just pack up and go home if you don’t like the way things are going, it’s definitely not for everyone. All the romantic fantasies of ship life quickly evaporate in a cloud of hard-hitting reality. Some people have been seasick for almost a week, the trade winds are relentless and the ship has been pitched about for day after day after day. This, however, is off set by the eclectic bunch of people who are part of the crew on board, a complete smorgasbord of nationalities and personalities. Everyone committed to the same goal of protecting our fragile eco-system. This is a place of learning and knowledge sharing, of story telling and teaching. And yes, it feels like home.
It’s funny, when you are out at sea for weeks at a time land seems very appealing and we long for the time we can stretch our legs and join civilization again, but as soon as we have been in port a few days, the ocean once again beckons us and we realize there’s a certain pureness in being on the ocean. As we are currently nearing land I’m in the ‘can’t wait to get ashore’ frame of mind as the idea of arriving in a tropical atoll and lying on the beach amid forays snorkelling over coral reef is definitely appealing to me.
The Maldives is known as one of the best diving and surfing areas on the planet and is also a model example of sustainable fisheries management, so I’m really happy to get the opportunity to visit this country. I’ve been on the ship for almost two months now and depending on circumstances will be staying another one to two months more. By the end of this trip I will have been to many different countries and travelled almost half way around the world on one of the most state of the art sailing vessels ever built.
The new Rainbow Warrior is an amazing vessel and carries on a tradition and legacy that has been trail blazed by the two previous ships and their crews through hard work, passion, courage, commitment and understanding. It’s an honour to be in some way a small part of this story and I encourage others who feel like this is something they want to do to go for it. “If you think you can, you can and if you think you can’t, guess what? You’re absolutely right!” Can’t remember which wise man said that, Henry Ford maybe? Whatever, it’s true.
Dominico Zapata is currently aboard the Rainbow Warrior in the Indian Ocean where he's working as the assistant cook and as a deckhand. He is a member of the Greenpeace New Zealand Actions Team and has been a volunteer for Greenpeace for the last four years.