End of the line, but not the campaign

So with one more shot across the bows of Sinar Mas, the Forests for Climate ship tour draws to a close. Since it began in Papua New Guinea back in August, we’ve been able to see the awe-inspiring forests that still exist in this part of the world, and the fate that awaits them if we allow companies like Sinar Mas, Wilmar and others to run rampant or politicians to take the easy road of inaction. But the solutions are at hand – a moratorium on deforestation in the short term, and an international funding agreement for forest protection for the long term.

The ship tour may be over but our campaign continues. I’m returning to the UK to do my bit from there, but it’s an international effort with work going on in China, the Netherlands, the US and, of course, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. If you want to join in, go to the website of your local Greenpeace office and register for their email updates. The more support we have, the quicker we’ll reach our goal of zero deforestation, not just in south-east Asia but across the world.

By the way, comments are still pouring in to the Jakarta Post’s opinion poll, so it looks like you can still add yours.

Zero deforestation – let’s make it happen.

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Palm oil giant destroying national park in Borneo

the result of Sinar Mas' operations in Kalimantan © Greenpeace/Dithajohn

Burnt forest: the result of Sinar Mas' operations in Kalimantan © Greenpeace/Dithajohn

The Esperanza is now anchored in Singapore harbour and there will be a few days of ship operations – taking on supplies and fuel, doing essential maintenance, that kind of thing. But all that’s happening without me. I disembarked yesterday and I’m finishing off a few things from a hotel in Little India. After weeks of daily cleaning chores, I have the strange urge to grapple a mop but I think the hotel staff would be bemused to say the least.

I mentioned that there was one final task left to do, however, and that’s to expose once more the environmental crimes of Sinar Mas. Across the South China Sea from here in Kalimantan on the island of Borneo, Sinar Mas companies are clearing forests around the Danau Sentarum National Park, a wetland area protected under the international Ramsar convention, in order to expand their palm oil operations. The buffer zone which is being logged is vital to the health and biodiversity of the park, one of south-east Asia’s largest wetland areas and home to a wide range of species including clouded leopards, orang-utans and a large population of proboscis monkeys.

According to reports in the Indonesian press, in August the Indonesian forest ministry revoked the permits of 12 companies operating in the area, seven of which belong to Sinar Mas. The loggers were breaching national conservation and biodiversity laws, but despite having its permits removed, Sinar Mas is still clearing forests around the park, showing a blatant disregard for Indonesian law and international conservation agreements. Sinar Mas is of course the same company behind the palm oil shipment we blocked in Dumai last week.

All of this is happening under the nose of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. Sinar Mas is a member of the RSPO and according to the organisation’s criteria for membership, it shouldn’t be cutting down these forests. And yet it is, because its executives know that being an RSPO member doesn’t actually mean anything and they won’t be penalised. Isn’t it time the RSPO started standing by its own principles and kicking out companies like Sinar Mas who obviously don’t care about the impacts their operations are having on the environment.

It’s not just in Kalimantan, either. According to internal documents we’ve had access to, Sinar Mas is planning to ‘develop’ huge areas of the Papuan forests we visited. Large-scale clearance is already underway near Jayapura and up to 2.8 million hectares are ear-marked for palm oil plantations, most of which is on forest and peatland areas.

The RSPO’s annual meeting starts tomorrow in Bali so we’ve released this information now to throw a harsh light on the organisation’s appalling lack of commitment to its own criteria. And a bit further ahead, global climate talks are being held in Poland next month as part of the next stage of the Kyoto Protocol. The protection of forests has to be an essential part of these discussions and the Indonesian government could help lead the way by enforcing a moratorium on deforestation, so one last reminder that you can write to the president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono asking him to do just that.

posted by Jamie in Singapore

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Bye, bye Tweety

All packed up and ready to go © Greenpeace/Woolley

All packed up and ready to go © Greenpeace/Woolley

Over the next few days, as the tour winds down, people will gradually start leaving the Esperanza and making their way back home. However, the first character to get off the ship wasn’t a person at all, but Tweety the helicopter who has been ferrying various people over the forests and plantations of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea for the last three months.

Except for Tweety, this doesn’t just mark the end of the tour around south-east Asia, but also her career with Greenpeace. After 25 years of sterling service, she’s being packed up and sent away for refurbishment, but she won’t be returning to work for Greenpeace.

Tweety has been a vital part of many ship tours, not least during the various Southern Ocean expeditions when she was instrumental in tracking down the Japanese whalers. Watching her being lifted off the Esperanza and her personal effects following her on to the waiting barge was the end of a little piece of Greenpeace history.

posted by Jamie on board the Esperanza

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Farewell to the palm oil boom town

After giving the Isola Corallo a farewell paint-job, we’ve finally taken our leave of Dumai. We did everything we set out to do (and perhaps a bit more), and we’ve reminded people both nationally and internationally about the problems associated with palm oil production in Indonesia. And as I mentioned in my last post, palm oil giant Sinar Mas has been rattled by our actions and, even though Greenpeace campaigners are now due to meet with their representatives next week in Bali, we’re not going to stop exposing the wanton destruction at their hands (and the hands of other companies) of the forests and peatlands here.

This afternoon, we arrived in Singapore which is to be our final destination. This expedition is winding up but don’t go anywhere just yet – we have one last task to perform but you’ll have to wait for Monday to find out what that is.

In the meantime, remember that poll the Jakarta Post was running about whether our actions were justified? They’ve published some of the response on their website and apart from one or two negative comments, everyone thinks we did the right thing. Thank you very much if you emailed or texted in – you can go one better and write to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, president of Indonesia, demanding an immediate end to deforestation in his country.

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Tug of war

The Esperanza attempts to slip past a tug as the Isola Corallo comes in to dock © Greenpeace/Rante

The Esperanza attempts to slip past a tug as the Isola Corallo comes in to dock © Greenpeace/Rante

I had thought that, after the Esperanza nipped into the berth reserved for the Isola Corallo this morning, we’d have some time to rest (and, in my case, a long shower) and prepare for the inevitable visit by the authorities. It didn’t quite work out like that and by mid-morning, events were moving rapidly.

The other ship alongside the dock had departed and was replaced by a big barge which was brought right up to the Esperanza’s stern to hem us in. With the Corallo preparing to come in (the request for a pilot to guide the ship in had been picked up over the radio), it became clear that the port authorities were preventing us from moving up the berth.

Standing on the mooring line © Greenpeace/Novis

Standing on the mooring line © Greenpeace/Novis

There was little option but to pull in the mooring lines and attempt to move the Esperanza around the barge. A sizeable crowd had gathered on the dock and one angry man performed a little direct action of his own by standing on the last mooring line. A couple of the crew tried to persuade him to move but he wasn’t going anywhere. The only solution was to cut the line and the ship was free.

However, two tugs were waiting for us and the three ships entered a bizarre, slow-motion ballet – the Esperanza trying to move back alongside, and the tugs pushing us in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, the Corallo was steaming towards the dock and it became a race against time for the captain to evade the tugs and place the Esperanza in the way of the incoming tanker. Nail-biting isn’t really the word.

But we were outnumbered and although the Esperanza and the Corallo passed within a few tens of metres of each other, the tugs wouldn’t let the ship go and forced us back out into the harbour. So, disappointing that we were unable to continue the blockade for longer, but we achieved an awful lot in the time that we had.

Not least because, apart from all the national and international coverage we’ve had this week, there has been a sudden eagerness on the part of Sinar Mas, the agribusiness company behind the palm oil shipment we’ve just been blocking, to talk to our campaigners. Last night, Bustar spoke to Daud Dharsono, president director of Sinar Mas: when challenged about the deforestation his company is perpetrating, his response was, “It’s only a small area.”

However, Dharsono has agreed to a meeting at next week’s meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, but he has been promised that we won’t halt our exposes and actions until Sinar Mas publically backs a moratorium on deforestation in Indonesia. (Don’t forget, you can write to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, president of Indonesia, to demand a moratorium as well.)

Cutting the mooring lines © Greenpeace/Novis

Cutting the mooring lines © Greenpeace/Novis

Speaking of which, two inflatables laden with paint recently left the Esperanza, bound for the Corallo. I just checked through the binoculars from the bridge and the water is raining down from hoses on the Corallo’s deck, but the hull has ‘Forest Crime’ and ‘Climate Crime’ written across it.

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Greenpeace ship moves in to block more palm oil tankers

Hauling on the mooring lines © Greenpeace/Novis

Hauling on the mooring lines © Greenpeace/Novis

Apologies for not posting an update yesterday. The anchor chain of the Isola Corallo has been occupied ever since Wednesday night, and still is, but we’ve been waiting for another opportunity to present itself. Finally, after long hours of observing the traffic in Dumai port and several false hopes, about an hour before dawn our chance came. Now the Esperanza itself has moved in to block the Corallo from taking on its cargo of palm oil.

Crude palm oil seeping from a loading pipe © Greenpeace/Woolley

Crude palm oil seeping from a loading pipe © Greenpeace/Woolley

There’s one part of the quayside here dedicated to piping palm oil into the bellies of the tankers. Up until a couple of hours ago it was occupied by two other ships; then one of them moved out and the Esperanza was able to take its place.

We’re now preventing the Corallo from coming alongside – it’s a much larger ship, just a bit bigger than the Gran Couva we saw earlier in the week, and so both us and the other ship already here will need to move before the Corallo can come in.

Despite the early hour, all hands were on deck. It was my job to help fix the mooring lines once the Esperanza had reached the quay, which involved jumping down from the poop deck. Pipes and thick mud lay directly beneath, but I managed to get down without breaking my ankle.

Dragging the heavy lines around, it wasn’t long before I was covered in mud and it stinks. The pipes lying around are the ones which carry the crude palm oil, which is the brightest yellow-orange I’ve seen this side of a bottle of Sunkist. Even when not being used, oil oozes from the pipes, creating the fatty, rancid mud I’m still caked in.

I had expected at least a security guard or a group of police waiting to greet us, but apart from a couple of men with bicycles, there was no one around. So for the time being, we’re preventing 29,000 tonnes of Sinar Mas’ palm oil being exported to Rotterdam, the Corallo’s destination.

Watching the dock as the Esperanza moves in for the blockade © Greenpeace/Novis

Watching the dock as the Esperanza moves in for the blockade © Greenpeace/Novis

posted by Jamie on board the Esperanza

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The chain reaction continues as ship number two is immobilised

Anchored to the Isola Corallo © Greenpeace/Novis

Anchored to the Isola Corallo © Greenpeace/Novis

So despite several requests to leave Dumai, we haven’t left (even though the harbour master visited the ship this afternoon and turned out to be a really nice guy). The reason for that is that we have a bigger and much more significant target in our sights. Now it’s arrived and the Esperanza’s crew have swung into action once more, and another anchor chain occupation is under way.

We’ve been waiting a few days for the Isola Corallo to turn up, and at one point a spelling mistake in the ship’s name made the researchers wonder whether it even existed. It’s time of arrival has slipped later and later but around 7.30pm it finally dropped its anchor.

We headed out into the dark and once more made for the anchor chain. The designated climber scrambled up the chain but, unlike with the Gran Couva, the crew showed very little interest. A couple of heads peered over the side, but their captain had already been informed what we were up to. Plus the crew were probably more interested in shore leave, but I imagine that will change.

So why this ship in particular? The Corallo is another large tanker due to pick up a consignment of palm oil and, like the Gran Couva, it’s bound for Rotterdam. We’ve been waiting for this ship to turn up because the palm oil it’s collecting belongs to Sinar Mas, which is not just the largest palm oil company in Indonesia, but also the largest in pulpwood and paper too. It was Sinar Mas that was responsible for the large-scale forest clearance which the helicopter team saw near Jayapura in Papua several weeks ago, and more recently in the Kampar peninsula.

As a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, Sinar Mas is supposed to be improving the environmental and social welfare standards of its operations. But as we’ve seen, like many other RSPO members Sinar Mas is still tearing up forests across Indonesia as it pushes an aggressive expansion policy.

I explained last week that the RSPO is a self-regulating industry body which, instead of striving to make the industry more responsible, is actually helping to cover up some of its worst practices. By creating the illusion that its members are not clearing forests, cheating indigenous people out of their land and so on, it’s justifies the industry’s continuing expansion, which means plantations growing in place of virgin forest and peatland.

This week, we’ve seen the first shipments arrive in Europe of palm oil certified as ‘sustainable’ by the RSPO, produced by United Plantations in Malaysia. But even without a feeble set of criteria the company had to meet for its certificate, it’s still hacking away at forests in Indonesia and shows no signs of stopping, throwing the notion of ‘sustainable’ palm oil into serious doubt.

The RSPO is holding its annual meeting in Bali next week, so all our recent actions have been timed to throw this greenwash into sharp relief. If the RSPO isn’t capable of bringing its members to heel (or simply doesn’t want to), then something else needs to be done.

The governor of Riau province – home to Dumai and vast plantations of palm oil and acacia for pulpwood and paper – has already issued a decree for a moratorium on deforestation here. It needs authorisation from the national government to become a reality, and the moratorium has to be extended across Indonesia. Don’t forget you can write to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, president of Indonesia, asking him for just such a moratorium to be put in place before it’s too late.

It’s going to be another night on the chain for our dedicated climber, but for the time being things look quiet. However, the Corallo will want to load up with palm oil soon and then things will get really interesting. Don’t forget you can get updates quickly from Twitter as well.

posted by Jamie on board the Esperanza

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