The Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior II was due to leave Tahiti early today, heading for France's Mururoa atoll nuclear weapon test site and potential confrontation with the French navy.
The environmental group said that at the weekend French police visited the ship, anchored in the island's main harbour, and issued a legal document to its captain, David Enever, telling him not to enter the 12-mile exclusion zone around the remote atoll, 650 miles east of Tahiti. But a Greenpeace campaigner on board, Stephanie Mills, said the captain had refused to sign the document, adding: ''This attempt at intimidation by the French military will not stop us.''
During the ship's four-day visit there were large demonstrations against nuclear weapons testing and in favour of independence for the French territory. About 10,000 protesters blocked roads into the capital, Papeete, for three days.
The French High Commissioner on the island, Paul Ronciere, declined to board the Rainbow Warrior II to hear the crew's protests. The crew refused to meet him at his offices in Papeete because two of them had been threatened with deportation if they stepped off the ship, having been deported during a Greenpeace protest in 1992.
Greenpeace declines to say whether it will try to penetrate the exclusion zone immediately. The ship has two months in which to cruise around French Polynesia, agitating against the tests, before the series of eight underground detonations begins in September.
Yesterday New Zealand's Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, said: "It's up to Greenpeace as to where they sail, but I would sincerely hope that at no time do they come under any attack from the French authorities. They've had the enormous embarrassment of attacking one Rainbow Warrior in the South Pacific in the port of Auckland, and ... we would not want to have repeated." The first Rainbow Warrior was sunk by a limpet mine placed by French secret service agents on 10 July 1985, and it is thought that Greenpeace might plan some action near Mururoa to mark the anniversary.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies