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The International Writers Magazine
: 21st Century - Saving Our Oceans

James Skinner

‘The world is plagued with environmentalists and non-governmental agencies dedicated to safeguarding the world’s natural resources. They range from protecting humanity from nuclear waste dumping in remote areas of the planet, to saving fauna and flora in danger of extinction caused by a variety of human assassins. Every country has either a handful of its own homebred bunch or is host to the headquarters of worldwide and now famous multinational organisations dedicated to the subject matter. Such is the case of Greenpeace, one of the most notorious safe- guarders of this sun-revolving planet.

Shark Death

This outfit was founded some thirty years ago in British Columbia to protest against US nuclear testing in a remote area of Alaska known as Amchitka Island. Although they were a small bunch of nature enthusiasts daring to stand up to America at the height of the Cold War in the nuclear arm’s race, they did stir a nerve amongst other ecological activists scattered around the world. They soon grew in strength and despite a loose system of administration and acting in the pursuit of a wide range of safeguards of the planet, they are world famous for their consistency as well as their bizarre method of attracting attention. In 1985, they caused an international stir when their flagship ‘Rainbow Warrior’ was blown out of the water in Auckland Harbour, New Zealand. The ship was due to sail to Morura Atoll to protest, once again against underwater nuclear weapons testing, this time by France when some unknown divers placed a couple of bombs under its hull. The culprits turned out to be French spies and consequently that country’s Minister of Defence as well as the Head of Intelligence was forced to resign. Despite the tragedy and loss of the ship, it served as yet another example of Greenpeace’s ironic successes in worldwide publicity highlighting otherwise undisclosed earthly destruction projects around the world. They are also quite mad.

Their volunteers, as most of them are, will go to extremes to prove a point. They will climb large buildings in the centre of whatever country’s capital is causing the ‘pollution of the day’ to place large enough signs for all to see. They will dress up as endangered species to parade in front of offending government buildings or drive around with loudspeakers raising local enthusiasm whilst stopping traffic and causing a rumpus. Their exploits on the ocean waves are even more notorious. Their daring pranks have included steering small inflatable crafts between harpooning whalers protesting against the destruction of whales or diving on industrial pipes dumping toxic waste to plug the exit valves. All their efforts have always been described as direct and non-violent. They may border on the fringe of both national and international law but they do achieve one goal. The international media is always there to support their cause. After all, publicity is publicity and it sells television time and newspapers. It also means money. But this time they went too far.

International exploitation of the world’s fishing grounds has always been a controversial issue. It has caused numerous legal battles not to mention aggressive fighting amongst trawlers and other vessels of different nationalities as to who has the right to where and how to fish. For time immemorial, most countries that rely on fishing as part of their GDP have always taken advantage of the ‘loose’ rules that ride the ocean waves to hammer away at those innocent preys lying below the surface. I have written in Hacks before on this issue so that there is no need to expand on the whole gambit involving this industry. There is one point, however that should be made and that is the constant fight between technology and existing legislation. Aggressive fishing countries such as Spain are usually one step ahead of the law when either new methods of catching fish, or new species are discovered before the International Protection Forum has had a chance to evaluate the consequences of the same. Such is the case of the use of a method known as ‘bottom trawling’. This system drags a long net on the ocean bed several miles long and when it is hauled in, the catch looks more like an overflowing supper market shopping trolley than a specific bundle of known and catalogued fish. The United Nations is presently studying the methodology. This is where Greenpeace tends to lose patience, come to the rescue of the planet and blow the whistle, so to speak! This time though, they may have overstepped their mark.

Entry in Captain’s log, M.V. Esperanza, Saturday November 13th. 2004. ‘It’s 10pm, in the middle of the North Atlantic. I’m sitting in the campaign office, just behind the bridge, still wrapped in layers of thermal gear, as I’ve spent six hours 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.’ The Esperanza is Greenpeace’s new ‘trouble-making’ vessel and the Anuva is a fishing vessel based in Vigo, Spain. What they did in effect was board a vessel in high seas, without permission, and broke one of the most traditional of maritime laws. They became fishing pirates. As usual, all hell broke lose!

Let’s examine both sides of the argument before ending with the mayhem that ensued after the event.
Most scientific research has yet to conclude whether long-term damage is done to thousands of square miles of ocean bed habitat due to bottom trawling. In fact, Dr. Ron O’Dor, Chief Scientist conducting a 10 year project of the Census of Marine Life said recently in Washington, ‘we’re just skimming the surface. We know something about the first 100m but we know almost nothing about what lies down in the deep’. The fishermen on the other hand take advantage of this lack of knowledge and go about their business insisting that they are not breaking any law. They also stress that they only trawl on sandy bottoms. The environmentalists argue that they are destroying corral reefs and all sorts of other ocean wildlife still unknown and unclassified by the scientific institutions. That is why Greenpeace could not wait and took the law into its own hands.

Conclusion in the Captain’s log, MV Esperanza. ‘The occupation of the ship went on for more that 24 hours. In a dramatic conclusion to this action, the vessel’s captain turned fire hoses on our activists and threw several overboard’. Once the crew were back on board, the activists took an incredible decision. They set their course towards the port of Vigo to supposedly hold a press conference and explain the reason for their actions, thus sailing into the shark’s mouth!

They were greeted by fishermen, trade unionists, government dignitaries, port authorities, civil guards, police and hundreds of other angry citizens of the city. They were pelted at with eggs, tomatoes and all sorts of other garbage. Although they were protected to a certain degree from the obvious local outrage, the President of the Port suggested politely that they leave, as he could not guarantee their safety. They pulled up anchor and sailed away as soon as possible. They did however, achieve their objective. International press coverage ensued.

So, once again as in most of my essays, I ask the question, ‘who is right and who is wrong’. Environmentalists like Greenpeace form part of the watchdog system that draw public attention to the constant damage that is being done to our planet by the various commercial and political entities around the world. Their methods are daring, bizarre, comical and often border on lawlessness. Yet if it were not for the likes of these intrepid individuals we may never have achieved a Kyoto accord. On the other hand, the fishing fleets around the world have a right to pursue their trade whilst they comply with existing international legislation.

Bottom Trawlng

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In a nutshell, both are right and both are wrong. Until organisations like the United Nations, the World Wild Watch and the plethora of independent scientific institutions around the world concerned about the environment do not come up with a proper solution to the correct methodology of deep ocean fishing, the likes of ‘Anuva’ will continue to ravish the bottom of the sea and Greenpeace will carry on pestering them.
© James Skinner. December 2004.

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