Plutonium ships ignore Pacific Island Nation's opposition and breach Exclusive Economic Zone

Press release - 13 July, 2002

Plutonium transport ship

Greenpeace reveals that the BNFL plutonium ships breached the Federated States of Micronesia's 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) at 9.50 am local time this morning in direct contravention of that nation's stated wishes. The shipment of rejected plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel is in transit between Japan and the United Kingdom.

Greenpeace, using a small aircraft, found the ships sailing 7 miles apart at co-ordinates 08 degrees 10 minutes North 158 degrees 44 minutes East, on a bearing of 157 magnetic (1). This is the first breach of a Pacific Island Nation's EEZ and Greenpeace predicts that over the next ten days the ships will breach the EEZs of many Pacific Island Nations despite their opposition. These breaches are occurring in contravention of the requirements of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which stipulates that the shipping nations have legal obligations to engage in meaningful consultation on matters such as emergency contingency plans and to conduct an environmental impact assessment. The consultation and notification should include detailed routing and timing information to emergency and marine safety authorities of each en route state.

On 5 July, the Government of the Federated States of Micronesia issued a formidable statement that reiterated "its continued strong opposition to the shipment of MOX fuel through the region, especially through its Exclusive Economic Zone" the statement went on to say "it is apparent that the shipping nations continue to show disregard for these concerns and ignore their responsibility under international maritime law" (2).

"Greenpeace today witnessed the Governments of Japan and UK together with their nuclear industries arrogantly disregard the legitimate call by a Pacific sovereign nation not to sail their lethal nuclear shipment through the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Federated States of Micronesia." said Simon Boxer, Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner. (Boxer is currently on the island of Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia). "Greenpeace believes the irresponsibility and arrogance of sending this dangerous shipment through the Pacific by Japan and the UK must not go unpunished. Legal redress can and should be sought through the international courts by all enroute nations especially in the Pacific to prohibit this unjustifiable trade."

Each nation has the right and obligation to protect the marine environment within its EEZ under the Law of the Sea Convention. As a result of the shipping states failure to consult with en route states, the BNFL ships, Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal, have no rights to 'innocent passage' and can be excluded from en route countries' EEZs. These concerns are compounded by concerns of inadequate security amidst fears of terrorist attacks on the shipments.

The African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States are due to meet between 16 -19 July in Fiji. The Caribbean Community has already sent a strong signal to the Japanese and UK Governments expressing their "implacable opposition to the shipment of nuclear waste through their region" and calling on Japan to find alternatives (3). The ACP meeting has an opportunity, that it should seize, to make statements of opposition about the shipment.

Concern around the shipment has grown since a British Navy destroyer, HMS Nottingham, was grounded off the World Heritage island of Lord Howe in the Tasman Sea and an oil tanker ran aground last week in Fiji. A senior military source verified to Channel 4 News in the UK that the Nottingham was there to escort the nuclear freighters during their passage to the Southern Ocean. The grounding of this naval vessel has highlighted that accidents can and will happen to ships manned by apparently highly trained and competent sailors. In trying to explain the grounding, a Royal Navy spokesman described the accident as a "reminder that the sea is a very dangerous place and pretty unforgiving despite all the training and electronic wizardry" The latest accident has exposed the hazards and security risks of shipping plutonium on the high seas.

A flotilla of twelve yachts, which left Australia, New Zealand and Vanuatu on Sunday 7 July, are sailing into the Tasman Sea to protest against the shipment. The yachts will gather next week in the northern Tasman Sea and wait for the two ships as they pass through the Tasman Sea to peacefully protest their transit.