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A harassed warrior sails off

By Kalpana Sharma

MUMBAI DEC. 12. A ship under house arrest? That is precisely the bizarre nature of the developments that have surrounded the Rainbow Warrior of Greenpeace, the international environmental campaigning organisation. For the last seven days, this world famous sailing ship has been docked at Mumbai's Ferry Wharf. But none of the 21 non-Indian crew has been permitted to step off the ship. Today, the ship decided to sail to Sri Lanka as some crew have to reach an airport and catch flights to their respective countries.

The Rainbow Warrior's second visit to India began on November 7 when it joined Greenpeace India's campaign for Corporate Responsibility. The ship docked in Mumbai, crewmembers got on and off the ship. All the foreign crewmembers had valid visas or seaman's books that permit ship's crew to disembark.

On November 11, the ship sailed to the ship-breaking yard in Alang, Gujarat. Its declared intention was to draw attention to the continued violation of internationally accepted norms by foreign-owned vessels that are sent to Alang for ship-breaking without the necessary steps to make them toxics-free.

According to the ship's captain, Cosmo Wassenaar, before approaching Bhavnagar port, he faxed the port authorities, seeking permission to land. Instead of getting a routine clearance, he received a fax asking him who he was and the intention of the ship. He faxed back his answers. The port authorities informed him that he should remain outside the port limits. That night a team from the Customs Department came on board and seized all their papers, including the clearance given by the Mumbai port. The next day they were asked to move out into international waters because, according to the authorities, they had broken the law by lowering dinghies and taking photographs of a toxics-laden ship, the Genova Bridge, berthing at Alang.

For three weeks, the Rainbow Warrior kept a vigil outside Alang and claims credit for preventing vessels that violate international norms from landing in Alang. Greenpeace research in Alang and Chittagong, Bangladesh reveals that despite the voluntary Code of Practice of Ship-recycling the shipping industry had accepted in 2001 to minimise environmental pollution, none of the 145 end-of-life ships at Alang or Chittagong as of November 14, 2003 had the necessary "inventory of potentially hazardous material on board." Greenpeace campaigner Martin Besieux says that this shows that voluntary codes do not work and therefore Greenpeace urges the Indian Government to force ship-owners to implement the code.

The Rainbow Warrior's attempts to return to Mumbai also ran into problems as among the papers seized in Bhavnagar were the port clearance document issued by the Mumbai port authorities. This meant the ship had to remain in international waters outside Mumbai for a week while Greenpeace representatives negotiated the release of the papers from the Bhavnagar Port. This eventually happened when Greenpeace agreed to pay a fine of Rs. 1 lakh.

The story, however, did not end there. Even as the Mumbai port authorities finally cleared the Rainbow Warrior to dock at the port, another surprise awaited them. On December 6, as the ship arrived, they were issued a notice from the Office of the Senior Inspector of Police, Seaport Branch, S. B. II, CID, Mumbai refusing them permission to berth in India.

The one-page notice names 21 crew and states that they would not be permitted to berth in India and that the captain was "directed to secure their presence on board of the vessel till the departure failing which you will be liable for action according to law."

Despite a week of high-level lobbying, the crew has not succeeded in getting the order rescinded.

Today, they have given up hope and "with pain in our hearts," says the captain, the Rainbow Warrior is sailing off. On paper, no reason has been given for the order. Verbally, Greenpeace activists have been told that the reason is "visa violations". Only five members of the crew came on tourist visas.

The rest had seaman's books that are internationally recognised documents permitting a ship's crew to disembark at a port of call.

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