Navies offered a life on the ocean green

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THE WORLD'S navies should be transformed into an environmental patrol force, according to an important new report to be published in Britain tomorrow.

The report - by the Independent World Commission On The Oceans, headed by Mario Soares, the former president and prime minister of Portugal - suggests that navies should be "re-orientated" to fight ecological and other threats to the seas.

Commissioned by Boutros Boutros Ghali, when secretary General of the United Nations, it conjures up the image of the world's navies taking on the role of Greenpeace, with nuclear-powered aircraft carriers as giant Rainbow Warriors. David MacTaggart, the founder of the environmental pressure group, was a member of the study group of the Commission that considered the role of the warships.

The Commission - which includes Oscar Arias, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former president of Costa Rica, Ruud Lubbers, former prime minister of The Netherlands and Carlo Ripa di Meana, former European environment commissioner - concludes that the world's seas are under "sustained pressure" from over-fishing, pollution, global warming, increasing shipping, piracy, and the destruction of habitats and extinction of species. It adds: " It is no exaggeration to refer to a crisis in the oceans." The report, The Ocean, Our Future, recommends that the "role of navies" should be changed "to enable them to enforce legislation" on non-military threats to the oceans, "including the ecological aspects".

It admits that this is "obviously a delicate issue" but adds that "the active involvement of navies" in this way could "serve to make the oceans safer for the global community". It adds that neighbouring countries could "agree to pool their resources and undertake joint monitoring and surveillance".

Yesterday, Peter Melchett, the executive director of Greenpeace in Britain, said: "It is wonderful to see such a distinguished group suggesting that the world's navies should follow Greenpeace's pioneering example." He said the organisation has a list of jobs that the warships could take on, though they should be disarmed.

He said that they could, for example, stop shipments of illegally felled timber from the Amazonian rain forests to Europe and of nuclear waste from Japan to Sellafield. They could intercept the Japanese whaling fleet, about to set off for Antarctica, and discipline giant trawlers that are contributing to over-fishing. And, recalling the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, he added: "It would be hard to see the French security services taking on the American navy."