Trouble on the high seas

Colin MacLean
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Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise docks in St. John’s after large container breaks free in ship’s hold

Although it is now safely tied up in St. John’s harbour, the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise faced a dangerous situation at sea Saturday.

Capt. Derek Nicholls told reporters Tuesday he was proud of his crew for their actions during their ordeal and admitted the incident shook him.

“I think, to be honest, everyone was scared at some time. There were some people who were quite sick because of the rolling, but sterling effort by the crew,” said Nicholls.

The Arctic Sunrise ran into trouble in rough seas about 650 kilometres south of Cape Race. A container weighing about five tonnes, secured in the hold and used as an office, broke free and started slamming around the space. The crew had no way to secure the object while it was sliding around the hold and it was several hours before it was safe enough to approach the container. While it was loose it caused a lot of damage to several systems and there was concern it might puncture the hull.

“It was pretty scary. I spent most of the time in the wheelhouse trying to keep the ship in a stable position, trying to minimize the rolling, and when this container was going from side to side I could feel the vibrations going through the ship,” said Nicholls.

Nicholls sent out an alert Saturday letting the Canadian Coast Guard know the Arctic Sunrise needed assistance. The coast guard ship the Leonard J. Cowley escorted the Arctic Sunrise into port as a precaution — for which Nicholls said he and his entire crew would like to thank the captain and crew of the Cowley.

The Arctic Sunrise was on its way from Boston, where it had just wrapped up an eastern seaboard American campaign, and was heading to its home port of Amsterdam, Netherlands, for upgrades.

Its detour in Newfoundland is expected to last at least several days before it will be able to continue on its way. Inspectors were busy going over the ship Tuesday to assess the damage.

The arrival of the Arctic Sunrise is believed to be the first time a Greenpeace ship has visited Newfoundland and Labrador in many years.

Staff at the St. John’s Harbour Authority on Tuesday could not find the last recorded visit of any of the organization’s vessels, and neither Nicholls nor a representative of Greenpeace could recall if any of their ships had visited St. John’s in the past.

However, Greenpeace has definitely had a presence in this province in years gone by, mostly in the mid-1970s and early 1980s. Greenpeace was one of the first organizations to bring international attention to Newfoundland and Labrador’s annual seal hunt. According to the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, Greenpeace first sent 13 members to St. Anthony and then to Belle Isle in 1976. Their intention was to spray-paint seals, making their pelts worthless. That plan was later abandoned.

In 1979, members of Greenpeace staged a protest in St. John’s during the annual send-off of the fleet. Members chained themselves to vessels while several Zodiac craft tried to prevent the fleet from leaving the harbour.

The same year the federal government passed a law making it illegal to approach within .8 kilometres of the seal hunt without a permit, Greenpeace subsequently shifted away from on-ice confrontations with sealers.

Bob Wakeham was a reporter for The Telegram during Greenpeace’s days of actively disrupting the seal hunt.

He recalls spending at least three sealing seasons in St. Anthony with reporters from all over the world who were there covering the anti-sealing campaign.

During that time you could walk into a bar and there would be locals, anti-sealers and journalists all having a drink, and the three groups didn’t always mix well, Wakeham said, chuckling at the memory.

“It was this really fascinating gathering of people, journalists from around the world, protesters and then the local people who wanted to tar and feather this crowd from Vancouver, the States and Europe who were trying to do away with the seal hunt,” said Wakeham.

Organizations: Greenpeace, Canadian Coast Guard, Harbour Authority

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Cape Race, St. Anthony Boston Amsterdam Netherlands Belle Isle Vancouver Europe

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Recent comments

  • Amy
    March 06, 2011 - 06:34

    So anything is good if it gives work to people? Mafia and drug smugling is also a source of income and one day, hopefully, a lot of people will be deprived from it. If sealing is or not ethical can be under discussion forever and either opinion is acceptable; but the "supreme" income-of-hard-working-people line" might be applied to absolutely EVERYTHING, legal or illegal, and we shouldn't forget that sealing was banned by our own government, our politicians or the people who vote for them. Yes, these guys lobbied like hell, but so sealers did. In the end, they were more convincing, or just most people are against sealing. Do nothing's? They are just into campaigning and politics, like many others who live out of that, don't produce anything, don't work in a factory or a supermarket. We've got a lot of them not far away from home. Plus, this particular guys work at sea: who in Saint John's dare to say that's an easy life?

  • FRANCESCO from France
    March 04, 2011 - 23:10

    Hello everybody, hate is not constructive... And peoples from greenpeace care also about the populations, because people and environement are linked, they are also pacifist and non violent, and open to dialog... Anyway, when you're a seaferer, human life is the most important thing, as soon you hear a distress signal in your area, you go and help! no matter if you are navy, passenger ship, wailer, cargo or greenpeace... That's the rule at sea, and that's the common sense... seaferers help seaferers! And in the oposite situation the greenpeace's vessel crew would do the same: go and help! please be nice with peoples who had a very scary and hard time at sea, as well they have been very couragous to face the danger without panic and did their seaman job very well in one of worst situation you can have at sea! we can have different opinions and respecting each other... anyway thank you to had helping them... thanks again and peace!

  • Edmund
    March 02, 2011 - 14:09

    Funny things happen here on this beautiful island known to be one of the friendliest places on earth. We extend an olive branch and rescue the same bunch of aristocratic, self serving, ignorant bunch of hoodlums who have, for many years, tried (some would argue sucessfully) to decimate a way of life for our hard working people, put those in need without food and place hardship on those who can ill afford it. They should have been left afloat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and hope they would have to, at some time, kill a seal to survive. But wait, they probablly would not know how to do that because of their profound ignorance of life itself. This ignorance, to go along with their ignorance of being at sea with a metal cubicle strapped to the hull of the ship serving as an office shows how stupid and uncaring this bunch is. They would rather see a people stripped of their god given right to earn a living and go hungry just to save a seal which is killing our other mainstay, cod fish. Enough is enough, they should be put in jail for intefering with our people and way of life, assisting the extinction of the cod stocks, abusing the laws of the sea. It is quite obvious they have no business going back out there. I wonder if the Coast Guard of Japan, Iceland and Australia would have been so kind - not. Next time drop them off a flipper pie or send a message in a bottle - "NOT WANTED HERE".

  • Anon
    March 02, 2011 - 11:36

    someone give em a feed of tofu and don't tell em it's really seal.

    • V
      March 14, 2011 - 05:52

      ANON,- you are just a clinic idiot. i wonder how old you are, don't you inderstand what this article about? it's not about sealing, it's about unfortunate accident at sea.

  • Erax
    March 02, 2011 - 10:02

    Fund raising season is here again for these do-nothings.