Posts tagged riau

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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What do you think about blocking palm oil tankers?

The Jakarta Post, Indonesia’s main English-language newspaper, is asking for readers’ opinions on our recent activities in Dumai:

Greenpeace has blocked several palm oil shipments, preventing them from leaving Indonesia, and has called for an end to forest clearing for palm oil plantations. What do you think? Send your opinions by SMS to +62 81118 72772 or by email to readersforum@thejakartapost.com. Please include your name and city.

Meanwhile, enjoy this quick video of clips from the past couple of days. It was made to send round TV networks and media outlets, but you can still get an idea of what it was like to be there.

posted by Jamie on board the Esperanza

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It takes only one person to stop a giant palm oil tanker

The hoses are turned on our climber attached to the anchor chain of the Gran Couva © Greenpeace/Novis

The hoses are turned on our climber attached to the anchor chain of the Gran Couva © Greenpeace/Novis

We’ve stepped up our game here in Dumai and have returned to the scene of our first paint job this morning: the Gran Couva. After returning to the Esperanza for a break, some boat cleaning and a spot of lunch (who says direct action can’t be civilised?), a team returned to the palm oil tanker but this time the action hinges on just one man, and he’s currently attached to the Gran Couva’s anchor chain.

On the chain © Greenpeace/Novis

On the chain © Greenpeace/Novis

A Greenpeace climber has made his way up the chain and positioned himself so they can’t lift the anchor. This means the ship can’t leave the port and this will cause considerable inconvenience to Wilmar, the company that owns the cargo of palm oil.

It’s exactly what we want because, although Wilmar is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, there’s nothing sustainable about the company’s practice of tearing up forests and peatlands to grow its oil palms.

Given how enthusiastic the Gran Couva’s crew were with the hosepipes earlier on, it was no surprise that he got a good drenching but the sustained barrage went on for 30 minutes.

Never the less, he’s still hanging on and that’s in no small part thanks to the incredible negotiation skills of our electrician Paul. He’d gone along to assist in the boats but it was his ability to speak Hindi which persuaded the Indian crew members manning the hoses to turn them off.

Meanwhile, we’ve heard from the harbour master who has us to stop our activities and the police have just arrived at the tanker to see what’s going on. We’ll see what comes of that, but for now our climber is still on the anchor chain and the Gran Couva isn’t going anywhere.

posted by Jamie on the Esperanza

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Sumatra’s dark, satanic mills

A small town for workers in the heart of a Wilmar palm oil plantation © Greenpeace/Novis

A small town for workers in the heart of a Wilmar palm oil plantation © Greenpeace/Novis

As a Greenpeace photographer, I find myself creating pictures in many interesting places. In any part of the world where there is a critical environmental problem, the Greenpeace photographers are there making the best visuals possible to share with everybody. Yesterday was no exception.

It was the last of the twice-daily, three-hour helicopter surveys of Riau province in Sumatra, carried out over the last four days. Every flight survey has been fascinating but this one – documenting the palm oil plantations belonging to Wilmar, one of the biggest palm oil companies in Indonesia – was breathtaking on a scale I have never seen before.

After flying a short while over intact and beautiful peatland forest, in the distance there appeared what looks like a sea or enormous lake. As we approached, we started to make out a green plain stretching to the horizon. Closer still and we knew we had found what we were looking for – the Wilmar plantations.

A very short commute to the plantation from these houses © Greenpeace/Novis

A very short commute to the work from these houses © Greenpeace/Novis

The forest ends like a clean-cut cliff and acres upon acres of oil palms take over the view point passing endlessly by, with straight dust roads intersecting each other over small man-made canals. Occasionally, a small group of workers’ houses with a little mosque punctuated the monotonous monoculture spanning all around us, as if we were not moving or going anywhere.

Around this panorama we started to see smoke drifting from different points in the 360-degree, flat palm tree plain. The smoke revealed a small factory, houses build up and a small town emerged within the plantation. As we circled the factory and I was photographing with interest, it became clear to me that the world’s demand for palm oil, found in countless cosmetics and consumables, has created an industrial revolution here in Riau.

Processing plants sit within the plantations as well &copy Greenpeace/Novis

Processing plants sit within the plantations as well © Greenpeace/Novis

It reminds me of the mill towns in the north of England where the boom times in cotton became a magnet for workers and the large towns grew rapidly. From the air, it’s so easy to see this rapid industrial progress, but also the sudden loss of huge areas of peatland forest, rich in biodiversity and carbon, simply trashed overnight for a quick buck.

While capturing everything on camera that I can, I was dismayed by the palm oil rush driven by this economic short-term thinking, funded and promoted heavily by the multinational’s greed for cheap oil at the expense of the forest’s treasures and threatened species, such as the Sumatran tiger and orang-utan.

Oil palm fruit being processed © Greenpeace/Novis

Oil palm fruit being processed © Greenpeace/Novis

Yet there is a further sting in the tail of this environmental catastrophe. The peatlands hold tonnes and tonnes of carbon and, when drained to make the plantations, it’s released in the atmosphere, contributing further to climate change.

Once back on the Esperanza, I edit my pictures and send them out to the world. Along with my colleagues who campaign tirelessly on creating a moratorium to save the peatland forests of Riau, I wish sense will rain down to stop this wanton destruction of something that is desperately fragile and so close to disappearing forever.

posted by John on board the Esperanza

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