It's been an eventful weekend in the Pacific Ocean, with Greenpeace activists taking on longline fishermen, saving turtles and more. Dean reports from the Esperanza...
Greenpeace activists take on controversial Taiwanese longliner, Ho Tsai Fa 18, in the Pacific Ocean, 03 May 2008. Greenpeace wants this area of the high seas to become part of the first marine reserves in international waters. Greenpeace/Paul Hilton
As the sun rose across the Pacific Ocean, the crew of the Esperanza were already awake and so was the crew of the Ho Tsai Fao 18, a Taiwanese longliner. We’d spotted the longliner as the light was fading the day before and stayed with her throughout the night.
We’d been on board a Taiwanese tuna longliner earlier in the expedition and filmed 12 sacks of shark fins and tails (most were small and wouldn’t have reached breeding age yet). Our research showed this vessel had a controversial shark finning past in Costa Rica, so who knew what it was doing?
The inflatables were launched from the Esperanza with our Chinese interpreter (another Kiwi, Rosemary – more from her later), camera guys and an array of international activists.
We researched the vessel and discovered that it was previously involved in shark finning in Costa Rica. We stayed with it until first light this morning when we launched inflatable boats. I helped to navigate the Esperanza alongside the fishing lines and later went out in a boat as safety crew in case anyone ended up needing help - but I wasn't out on the water for long and didn't get to see most of the action so I have bribed Sari, one of the campaigners on board, with chocolate to write an update for you.
Sari continues the story...
We first tried to radio the vessel from the ship but got no response so our Chinese translator went over to speak to the vessel. We handed over the letter which explained our campaign and the captain nodded whilst reading it. We asked him to stop fishing and leave the area and he agreed but wanted to haul in his line first. We told him he had to free all marine life on his line and then we branded the hull of the ship with "PIRATE?" in red paint because it is impossible for any authority to know if this vessel is fishing legally as it is very difficult to regulate fishing in international waters.
The captain caught a few tuna and did not set them free and they also hauled a few small sharks on board their ship. Our activists attempted to interfere but one of the fishing crew began to violently hit the inflatable. We demanded again over the radio that they free the fish unharmed at which point one of the sharks was thrown back.
Greenpeace activists free an endangered Olive Ridley turtle from a hook of the controversial Taiwanese longliner. Greenpeace/Paul Hilton
We told the captain that since he is not willing to stop fishing we will now interfere with his line and confiscate his equipment. We freed the fish coming up on the line before it went onto the boat. A radio beacon was coming up on the line and one of our boats managed to take it on board, and almost at the same time a turtle appeared on the line. We lifted it up and managed to undo the hook and pull out the bait (squid) that was tangled in its mouth and we released it back into the ocean. We later identified it via photos as an endangered Olive Ridley turtle.
The captain was clearly alarmed by the fact that we now had the radio beacon and he asked us if we wanted him to throw all his fish over board in order to have his beacon back. We established that all he had on board was already dead so told him to keep it but that everything else that comes up has to be freed. He agreed and personally came down after that to free everything that came up. The first thing released was a huge (at least 2.5m) beautiful blue marlin that jumped high out of the water between the boats. Pretty wild, but unfortunately it was so quick that we didn't get pictures.
For the rest of the line, several sharks and large tuna were released.
We stayed with the ship until it got to one end of the line while at the other end, the Esperanza hauled up the line and hooks together with another radio beacon.
In the end we negotiated to give the radio beacons back to the captain for his word to leave the international waters and return to Vanuatu where he is licensed to fish. We confiscated the line and kept it on board and will return it to the Taiwanese company headquarters.
Throughout the activity, which took about 5 hrs, most of the crew on the fishing vessel remained calm and smiled at us. Now and then when the captain wasn't looking we got little thumbs up from some of them.
Finally, here's an account written by Rose, our Chinese translator from New Zealand (Rose was keen to write something and didn't even need any chocolate!)
When the captain personally came down and cut the first fish off the line, he wanted the beacon back immediately, but "NO WAY!" I said (in Mandarin), "Get all that line on board first!"
I think at that time he didn't really believe our big ship would pull in the line. He seemed to think we were bluffing. But after the Esperanza began hauling - he was certainly cooperating, making me so glad to be part of this action to defend these international waters against overfishing and protect this amazing ecosystem. I told him about the depleting tuna stocks, the importance to the Pacific and to all the Pacific people's livelihood, and how this area needed to be a marine reserve.
He just kept saying "Yes! Yes! Just give me that beacon!"
But I said "No! Not until you agree to leave this area without returning."
He finally got it, but I was a very stroppy translator at that point because I had to get our message across.
I think one of the funniest moments was as we were leaving, I bid him farewell in Chinese which is "Zai jian", literally meaning "See (you) again".
But the captain's reply to me was "BU jian", meaning "NOT see (you) again!"
At which point I got the last word in for the campaign – "Well as long as you don't come back here, that's fine with us!"