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'

ROBERT MILLIKEN

Papeete

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.''

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam