Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Arctic 30 and a Fishy Story

On my return flight from Seoul last Thursday night, I ended up conversing with the passenger sitting next to me. The gentleman, from Amsterdam in the Netherlands, was on his way to join the Greenpeace ship “Esperanza” which had recently docked in the Suva harbour. Being a supporter of the work of Greenpeace, having been studying in Auckland when the famous Rainbow Warrior was sunk in 1985, and having visited the Rainbow Warrior II during its stopover Suva in 1995 on its way to protest the resumption of French nuclear testing on Moruroa, in Tuamotu Maohi Nui (French Polynesia) as part of the Suva-based anti-Nuclear protest group - I was obviously interested in my co-passenger’s story.

Over the next 10 hours, interspersed with naps and the odd meal break, my co-passenger shared with me that normally he is a crew member onboard the Greenpeace ship “Arctic Sunrise”. At the moment the Arctic Sunrise, its crew of twenty-eight and two journalists are in the custody of the Russian authorities. It was only because my co-passenger was on leave at the time that he avoided joining his colleagues in a Russian jail.

The Arctic 30, as they have come to be known, were involved in a protest against the Gazprom Arctic drilling platform Prirazlomnaya on September 18th. Two of the activists tried to climb the side of the platform to hang a banner. One day later, Russian security services descended from a helicopter onto the deck of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, seized the ship at gunpoint and detained the entire crew.

According to Greenpeace, the activists, crew and journalists were at the Gazprom rig because they felt compelled to bear witness to the slow, unrelenting destruction of the Arctic. As the ice is retreating, oil companies are moving north to drill for the fuels that drive that melting. “The Arctic 30 are people who care enough about the world we live in to take a stand and protect it. The Arctic is a stunning place, home to unique species including polar bears and Arctic foxes. Drilling for oil there is an appalling act that threatens this extraordinary environment, and the world’s climate.”

I was able to learn more about the Arctic 30 when I accompanied my children to visit the Esperanza on Saturday as Greenpeace organised free tours for the public. Onboard, captain of the Esperanza, Mike Fincken, shared more on the Arctic 30.

Energy and petroleum companies are eying the Arctic as the next oil frontier with a potential 90 billion barrels of oil. While that maybe a lot of money, the reality is that it is only enough to supply the world with oil for three years.

To drill in the Arctic, oil companies have to drag icebergs out the way of their rigs and use giant hoses to melt floating ice with warm water. Considering that melting ice leads to sea-level rise, this is the last thing the Pacific needs. Captain Fincken, said that given the Arctic environment, dealing with oil spills in the freezing waters is “almost impossible”. Any accident would shatter the fragile Arctic environment. Given the environmental catastrophes caused by the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon (BP oil) disasters, a catastrophic oil spill in the Arctic would be just a matter of time.

Recently three Russians who are part of the Arctic 30 were released on bail and negotiations are continuing for the release of the non-Russians.

Greenpeace is hopeful that the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea will order their release when they adjudicate on Friday. However, Russia is not attending the UN tribunal hearing in Hamburg, as it is not party to some UN Law of the Sea dispute procedures.

If Russia keeps the activists in jail for another three months they will remain there during the February 2014 Winter Olympics hosted by Russia in Sochi.

While the Esperanza was not in the Pacific on something as dramatic as the Arctic Sunrise, it was doing some very important work which impacts the Pacific Ocean and its people. According to Captain Fincken, the bulk of their work is research and data compilation. The Esperanza docked in Fiji after close to nine weeks at sea documenting albacore tuna fishing between Fiji and Vanuatu.

The work of the Esperanza echoes the report by Greenpeace, released this week that calls for wide scale measures to be put in place urgently to “reduce fishing capacity to save the region’s tuna fisheries”.

According to Greenpeace Australia, in 2012 there was a record tuna catch and record number of vessels in the purse seine fishery. There are already almost 300 purse seine vessels and around 3000 longline vessels fishing in the Pacific; while another 45 purse seine vessels are under construction in Asian shipyards – destined for the Pacific. It is basically a case of are too many boats chasing too few fish in the Pacific.

Over 2 million tonnes of tuna was taken from the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) last year.

The Greenpeace report – titled Fewer boats, more fish: Towards comprehensive fishing capacity management in the Western and Central Pacific Tuna Fisheries – calls for the urgent introduction of capacity and effort management in tuna fisheries in the WCPO to protect tuna stocks, improve environmental performance generally and to contribute more to island states and local communities.

“Greenpeace also urges the Commission to develop a plan and timeline to assess and eliminate the overcapacity in the WCPO that takes into consideration the social and ecological criteria set out by Greenpeace for reducing overcapacity in tuna fisheries.”

The full report can be found here:

We of the liquid continent, who rely on the sea for so much need to pay attention to the “writing on the wall” and think not just in terms of the gains to be made today but the legacy we leave for our children. Pacific Islanders must identify the best forms of fishing to support our environment, economies and livelihoods. From the perspective of Greenpeace, this means preference must be given to local, sustainable 'ocean friendly' fishing.

Too often we take the abundance of natural resources that the Creator has placed around us, for granted as our God-given right. We need to remember that we have also God-given responsibility for the stewardship and care of creation.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

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