Indonesian ship-to-ship blockade becomes a tug of war

Posted by jamie — 14 November 2008 at 9:04am - Comments

Hauling on the mooring lines © Greenpeace/Novis

Hauling on the Esperanza's mooring lines © Greenpeace/Novis

After painting and obstructing various palm oil tankers in Dumai earlier this week, we of the Esperanza have been playing a waiting game. There was one tanker due in which the campaigners were particularly interested in - not only was it bound for Europe, but it was picking up a cargo of palm oil from Sinar Mas, the largest palm oil company in Indonesia. As soon as it arrived, a climber was installed on the anchor chain and then there was some more waiting. A lot more waiting. 

Finally, after long hours of observing the traffic in Dumai port and several false hopes, about an hour before dawn our chance came, and the Esperanza itself moved in to block the Corallo from taking on its cargo of palm oil. 

There's one part of the quayside here dedicated to piping palm oil into the bellies of the tankers. For some time, it was occupied by two other ships; then one of them moved out and the Esperanza was able to take its place to prevent the Corallo from coming alongside. 

Crude palm oil seeping from a loading pipe © Greenpeace/Woolley Despite the early hour, all hands were on deck. It was my job to help fix the mooring lines once the Esperanza had reached the quay, which involved jumping down from the poop deck. Pipes and thick mud lay directly beneath, but I managed to get down without breaking my ankle. Dragging the heavy lines around, it wasn't long before I was covered in mud and it stinks. The pipes lying around are the ones which carry the crude palm oil, which is the brightest yellow-orange I've seen this side of a bottle of Sunkist. Even when not being used, oil oozes from them, creating the fatty, rancid mud, the smell of which lingered in my sinuses. 

I had thought that after we were in place, we'd have some time to rest (and, in my case, take a long shower) and prepare for the inevitable visit by the authorities. It didn't quite work out like that and by mid-morning, events were moving rapidly. 

The other ship alongside the dock had departed and was replaced by a big barge which was brought right up to the Esperanza's stern to hem us in. With the Corallo preparing to come in (the request for a pilot to guide the ship in had been picked up over the radio), it became clear that the port authorities were preventing us from moving up the berth. 

There was little option but to pull in the mooring lines and attempt to move the Esperanza around the barge. A sizeable crowd had gathered on the dock and one angry man performed a little direct action of his own by standing on the last mooring line. A couple of the crew tried to persuade him to move but he wasn't going anywhere. The only solution was to cut the line and the ship was free. 

The Esperanza attempts to slip past a tug as the Isola Corallo comes in to dock © Greenpeace/Rante

The Esperanza attempts to slip past a tug as the Isola Corallo comes in to dock © Greenpeace/Rante

However, two tugs were waiting for us and the three ships entered a bizarre, slow-motion ballet - the Esperanza trying to move back alongside, and the tugs pushing us in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, the Corallo was steaming towards the dock and it became a race against time for the captain to evade the tugs and place the Esperanza in the way of the incoming tanker. Nail-biting isn't really the word. 

But we were outnumbered and although the Esperanza and the Corallo passed within a few tens of metres of each other, the tugs wouldn't let the ship go and forced us back out into the harbour. So, disappointing that we were unable to continue the blockade for longer, but we achieved an awful lot in the time that we had. 

Not least because, apart from all the national and international coverage we've had this week, there has been a sudden eagerness on the part of Sinar Mas, the agribusiness company behind the palm oil shipment we've just been blocking, to talk to our campaigners. Last night, Bustar spoke to Daud Dharsono, president director of Sinar Mas: when challenged about the deforestation his company is perpetrating, his response was, "It's only a small area." 

However, Dharsono has agreed to a meeting at next week's meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, but he has been promised that we won't halt our exposes and actions until Sinar Mas publicly backs a moratorium on deforestation in Indonesia. (Don't forget, you can write to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to demand a moratorium as well.) 

Speaking of which, two inflatables laden with paint recently left the Esperanza, bound for the Corallo. I just checked through the binoculars from the bridge and the water is raining down from hoses on the Corallo's deck, but the hull has 'Forest Crime' and 'Climate Crime' written across it.

About Jamie

I'm a forests campaigner working mainly on Indonesia. My personal mumblings can be found @shrinkydinky.

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