Skippers sail for nuclear free future

Feature story - 7 July, 2002
What would possess a comfortably retired grandfather, a former rock musician, a chimney sweep and a tour guide to set out in small boats in some of the roughest waters in the world? What can unite the Pacific island nation of Fiji with the government of Chile and the politicians of Ireland?

Boats set sail from Auckland to join the flotilla before that will protest British Nuclear Fuels plutonium shipment transport through the Pacific ocean.

These unusual allies share a common concern about the dangers posed by British Nuclear Fuel's shipment of weapons-usable plutonium past their countries, and they are determined to ensure it never happens again.

Ross Barnett Ross Barnett, from Australia, skippers a 33-foot sailboat called Moontide. In a few days, he will be sailing into the depths of winter on the Tasman Sea to join a flotilla of a dozen sailboats from Australia, New Zealand and Vanuatu. The small flotilla will oppose the transit of the Pacific Pintail carrying plutonium through the Tasman. "I have a three year old grandson," says Ross. "The thought struck me, what if he asks me one day if I ever stood up to be counted?"

Ross and others hope to intercept the Pacific Pintail which left Japan for England on July 4th carrying the cargo of rejected mixed plutonium uranium fuel. The route through the Pacific announced by the UK and Japanese nuclear industries after the ship departed passes through the Tasman sea, around Cape Horn and finally through the Irish sea to British Nuclear Fuel's facility at Sellafield in Cumbria.

Dennis Johnson and Lynn PistollDennis Johnson, a chimney sweep from New Zealand is now sailing on board the yacht Joie. Dennis is a long-time anti-nuclear activist who sailed to Moruroa atoll in the South Pacific in 1995 protesting France's nuclear tests there. "I'm old enough to really appreciate how bloody wonderful this planet that nurtures us is. I'd like my two kids to think they have a parent who could see at least past his own lifetime," says Dennis.

The commitment of people like Ross and Dennis is both inspiring and courageous. One individual's action can make a difference. Even if you can't sail a boat into the path of a nuclear transport, you can show your opposition. For those of us watching from home, joining our virtual flotilla will show your support for the brave activists out on the rough seas. You can also talk with other people speaking out against nuclear transports and participate in cyberactions throughout the transport routes.

Already, many people and countries are speaking out against this transport.

In Ireland, sentiment against British Nuclear Fuels, its Sellafield plutonium facility and the return of this plutonium fuel shipment are running high. The Irish government has taken the British government to the International Law of the Sea Tribunal opposing the opening of the new Sellafield mixed plutonium-uranium fuel plant which will mean dozens more plutonium transports in the future.

An accident or attack on a nuclear transport at sea could have catastrophic consequences for coastal states, and yet the British and Japanese governments have refused to consult with countries along the route, not even concerning plans for emergencies or liability agreements in the case of radioactive contamination.

Countries uneasy with this shipment are mainly small island states in the Pacific such as Fiji, as well as countries along alternative shipment routes including Chile, Brazil, and Uruguay.

Opposition to nuclear transports is no longer just a few hippies in fast inflatable boats. This shipment has united people in a worldwide movement with flotillas developing in Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile and Ireland.

Marilou and TheoMarie-Paul Guillaumot and Hugues Delignières have a charter boat, Le Sourire, based in Ushuaia, Argentina. Marie Paul is a tourist guide and translator, Hugues has sailed and worked on French racing boats and over-wintered alone on the Antarctic peninsula in his first boat, Oviri. "We will protest with the flotilla because this plutonium shipment is a top priority. It is not acceptable to us that plutonium shipments pass so near Cape Horn," Marie-Paul says.

The largest opposition is likely to come as the Pacific Pintail nears its destination.

Paul BarrettPaul Barrett will be part of a large flotilla leaving from Ireland and is keen to ensure that Irish voices are heard in protest when the Pacific Pintail sails through the Irish Sea to Sellafield. Paul was a record producer, composer and musician until he retired for a life that brings him closer to nature as a sailing instructor in 1997. Since then he has taught people to sail aboard the Tuscair, a 48-foot Endurance staysail ketch.

"It is utterly frustrating to have to live for so long between the lies, corruption, and falsification of the British government concerning Sellafield," says Paul. "The real nuclear terrorism is the one we have to deal with everyday, perpetrated against the people of both Ireland and Britain by British Nuclear Fuels, and its cynical regulation by the British government."

You can take action today to oppose the nuclear transport. Join the virtual flotilla.

Find out more about the flotilla participants at the Nuclear Free Seas Flotilla website.

Visit Greenpeace's Stop Plutonium Terror website to learn more about the plutonium shipment.