How Greenpeace came unstuck in the South Pacific

Nuclear-test row: Best-laid plans were not good enough to thwart French commandos who stormed 'Rainbow Warrior II'



As the crippled Rainbow Warrior II was towed by its French captors towards the South Pacific island of Hao yesterday, Greenpeace disclosed how elaborate plans to thwart the ship's seizure came unstuck.

Jon Castle, captain of the Rainbow Warrior II, remained uncaptured, but helpless, yesterday in the crow's-nest, where he had barricaded himself before French commandos stormed two Greenpeace vessels early on Friday.

Luis Manuel Pinto da Costa, the ship's Portuguese electrical engineer, revealed that he had rigged the vessel so that Mr Castle could control its engine and steering from the mast in the event of a French raid. But the scale and power of the attack disabled the ship and prevented Mr Castle from sailing single-handed towards the nuclear-test site at Mururoa atoll.

Mr Pinto da Costa was speaking in Papeete, capital of French Polynesia, where he and 21 other Greenpeace campaigners were flown by the French armed forces on Saturday.

"The plan was that someone would appear to be steering from the bridge, but meanwhile Jon would have control over everything, engine, propeller and speed, from a box in the crow's-nest," Mr Pinto da Costa said. "We believed that would be the best way to manoeuvre ourselves to the atoll if we were raided near it." After Mr Castle stationed himself in the crow's- nest, his colleagues cut away the access ladder and greased the mast so that raiders would have difficulty arresting him.

Mr Pinto da Costa said they based their plan on the drama last July, when Rainbow Warrior II managed to approach the entrance to Mururoa lagoon before it was rammed and stormed by commandos. On that occasion, only one team of commandos charged the ship. They focused on the bridge and used tear-gas to immobilise the crew but left the vital functions intact.

On Friday, apparently building on their intelligence from that raid, three commando crews stormed the vessel. They smashed the communications system, cut a hole into the engine-room and severed cables controlling the engine, radio and steering mechanism, making Mr Castle's remote control system worthless.

"It was a good plan, but we didn't bargain for so many troops this time," said Mr Pinto da Costa. "We also thought we might have got closer to Mururoa before it happened."

Rainbow Warrior and Greenpeace, with skeleton Greenpeace crews, were under tow away from Mururoa last night towards Hao, about 300 miles north, where France maintains a base for servicing its test site. A third protest vessel was seized yesterday and towed to Mururoa. The French sloop Kidu was boarded, just inside the military exclusion zone, by two commandos and a gendarme.

The first of the seven or eight nuclear tests which France has said it will start this month is likely to wait until the captured Greenpeace ships are clear of Mururoa.

The crew of a New Zealand navy ship in the area said yesterday they had recorded, via an underwater microphone, what could have been an underground blast. But military officials in Tahiti flatly denied that a test had been held, and the Australian Seismological Centre in Sydney said it had detected no sign of an explosion.

Mr Pinto da Costa left the Rainbow Warrior at the time of the boarding and penetrated the lagoon in one of eight inflatable dinghies, from which he was arrested. Despite the loss of two key vessels, he maintained, Greenpeace's campaign to stop the tests was not over. "I personally can't wait to go back to Mururoa," he said. "Politicians don't manage to stop the tests. Our aim is to go on and on."

The towing of the two Greenpeace ships to Hao will take at least two days. Greenpeace says that it has received no word from the French authorities on when they will receive the vessels back or whether the French intend to impound them until the scheduled completion of the nuclear tests in May. Of 73 people detained on the two ships, the French have allowed 42 to return to Papeete.

The centre of Papeete swarmed yesterday with about 3,000 demonstrators in the third rally since June calling on France to abandon the tests. Oscar Temaru, leader of Tavini Huiraatira, an anti-nuclear, pro-independence party, led the protest after returning from Mururoa, where he had been in the Rainbow Warrior when it was raided. Under a statue of Pouvanaa a Oopa, an independence leader, Mr Temaru introduced parliamentarians who had come to support the anti-test campaign from Britain, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Sweden, Canada, Germany, Brazil, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, the Philippines and American Samoa.

Masayoshi Takemura, the Japanese Finance Minister, who led a delegation of Japanese MPs and survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, declared: "We humans shouldn't be reduced to crazy monkeys, so to speak. I think mankind at this time is on the point of decline; therefore we will have to do our utmost to prevent the resumption of nuclear testing on this planet.''

More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...


Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?