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The sad song of the tuna fish24.12.2007

Tags: Rainbow Warrior       Comments: 0

Christmas on the "Rainbow Warrior". The Greenpeace and Solar Taxi crews swim in an ocean as warm as a bath, secretly make presents and swap activists’ tales. Like the one about the tuna fishing protests.

Every day on average we see a ship and a group of dolphins. They pass us unconcernedly. The day before yesterday we encountered a huge flock of birds, albatrosses, boobies and lots of others, and among them dolphins leaping out of the water. Our Second Officer and the ships photographer, Dimitri Sharomov, even managed to get a photo of them. We were amazed to discover later that it wasn’t actually a dolphin he’d photographed but a leaping tuna.


We’ve already completed the first third of our trip on the "Rainbow Warrior" and last sighted land, the eastern-most tip of East Timor, the day before yesterday. The coast is utterly deserted. We’re heading straight for the Torres Strait and are hundreds of kilometres from the nearest land, right in the middle of the Arafura Sea.

Instead of a "Christmas Island", as originally announced, our captain Mike gave us the present of a Christmas swim. We leapt into the middle of a warm ocean. Walter was the first to notice something. "Funny water!" he said, "The water temperature is normally 29 to 30 degrees at this time of year, but we’ve been measuring over 33.6 degrees since yesterday." Chief Engineer Hans added: " The water has been too warm since Singapore! Much too warm!"

Christmas tree and activists’ tales

Merry Christmas! We make presents, hide ourselves away in our rooms, and everyone seems to be keeping secrets. But otherwise we have almost everything we need for a real Christmas celebration. There’s even a Christmas tree in the dining room. All that’s missing are some candles and Christmas stories. But there are a lot of "characters" among the crew, Maite from Spain tells me. She’s on her seventh trip on a Greenpeace ship. "Why do we need Christmas stories?" she asks, "We have enough other stories!" I understand.

I let the others do the talking for a while and ask Mike, the South African captain, what his best experience on the "Rainbow Warrior" has been. He grins. "I was on my first day as captain of the 'Rainbow Warrior', when we picked up an SOS in the Mediterranean. I changed course and saved three activists whose yacht had run aground on a rock in Corsica.

Because of that we arrived 24 hours late in Marseilles, where we had planned a campaign against the over-fishing of tuna in the Mediterranean. Apart from bluefin tuna, all species of tuna are practically extinct and France, Italy and Spain wanted to keep fishing these kinds of tuna. What we didn’t know was that 24 big French fishing boats were going to try and head us off in open water. When we didn’t arrive, they returned to port, so when they finally noticed that we were coming, they were only able to intercept us two kilometres outside the harbour. They surrounded us, their boats all much bigger than us, and tied themselves on to our side, preventing us from entering the harbour, and then threatened to slaughter us! They said there’d be a massacre!"

Weren’t you afraid? "And how! I could hear my heart beating! All you could see of our ship was its four masts. They blockaded the harbour for two days. No ship could come in or go out, but all the media reported on our action and the extinction of the tuna, so the fishermen made the best propaganda themselves!"

Time for Christmas dinner

Outside the sea swishes past. The motor hums monotonously. I look at the photo Dimitri took. The world’s tuna stocks are almost completely exhausted. The only last big stocks in the Atlantic and Mediterranean area are off the coast of Libya.

"And your saddest moment on the ship?" I ask Mike. "In Dubrovnik, four months later, at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna Conference, where the fishing quotas were set. We, the WWF and the scientists all pleaded for lower catch quotas, for a later start to the fishing season (so the young fish would have a change to grow) and for a prohibition on the use of aircraft that locate tuna stocks from the air and determine the minimum size of the tuna to be caught. We demonstrated at all the hotels. We had been working for months trying to get protection for the seriously endangered bluefin tuna at this conference. But the governments had decided it’d be 'business as usual', so fishing goes on practically exactly as before!"

Time for Christmas dinner. The only thing I don’t miss is tuna on my plate.



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