Deep sea destroyer disabled

Feature story - 13 November, 2004
It's 10pm, in the middle of the North Atlantic. I'm sitting in the campaign office, just behind the bridge of the Esperanza, still wrapped in layers of thermal gear, as I've just spent six hours out in the dark, in an inflatable. But while I'm sitting here, in relative comfort, three of our guys are on board a Lithuanian-flagged bottom trawler, the Anuva. It's going to be a long night.

Bottom trawling destroys the seabed for the sake of very few fish. It's like bulldozing a rainforest in order to pick some fruit.

Late this afternoon, we found the Anuva, bottom trawling on the high seas. This boat has one dodgy history- despite its Lithuanian flag, this ship is owned and run from Spain, and was previously deflagged by Belize for illegal fishing. As Belize is a well-known flag of convenience, these chancers must have really run amok, in order to be booted out! Coincidentally, the North East Atlantic Fisheries Council - who govern this area - are having a meeting in London at the moment. It's a pity they don't crack down on these troublemakers...

But back to the story - around 4pm, we had two inflatables alongside the Anuva. Three activists - our lead campaigner, Dima, as well as Kate and Ann - climbed up a ladder onto the deck of the Anuva, wearing the regulation orange jumpsuits, hard hats, and 'Deep Sea Defender' vests. Surprised members of the Anuva's crew burst out of the bridge when they saw us, but they didn't try to harm our guys. The trawler started hauling, and our guys were there to document the net coming up, while we were behind in the inflatables, shooting photographs and video.

As the trawlermen busied themselves with the deep sea catch, Kate -with Ann's help - managed to swing herself out onto the enormous trawl doors, which were groaning from port to starboard with the trawler's rolling. She attached herself, blocking the bottom trawler from setting its net again. Meanwhile, Dima and Ann started a blockade of the net itself, which was lying on the deck, empty. Kate joined them, and sat on the net as the trawler transited to a new position.

By now, the night had become inky black - no moon, no stars, and huge rolling swell. I'm in the inflatable called 'The African Queen' with Maaike, 'Action Dave', and camera guys Jari and Steve. As we rise and fall in the big sea, sometimes we're looking up at the Anuva towering above us - and within seconds it's way down below us, and we can see right onto the trawl deck.

When the trawler's skipper finally tries to drop his net, he has to get his men to bodily remove Dima, Ann and Kate from the net - they're moved aside, and the net is dropped again, for another few hours of mayhem on the seafloor.

So as I write, we've got people on the bottom trawler, and in two inflatables. And I'm not done yet.. 'Action Dave' has just come in to fill me in on what's happening later tonight - so watch this space.

--Dave Walsh

[The occupation of the ships went on for more than 24 hours. In a dramatic conclusion to this action, the vessel's captain turned firehoses on our activists and threw several overboard. You can read the conclusion here.]

More information

Read more about the intrepid Esperanza crew and their efforts against one of the most destructive fishing practices in the world.

Read more about bottom trawling

See an image gallery of photographs from the action.

Take Action!

Tell the United Nations you don't want bare bottoms (sea bottoms, that is):Vote for Squid!

Send an e-card - tell your friends that bottom trawling stinks or show them the mysteries of the deep

Help the Esperanza campaign against ocean crimes: Join Greenpeace