The crew of the Rainbow Warrior, the flagship of the environmental watchdog, Greenpeace, has run into rough weather with Gujarat and Mumbai authorities.
An initiative to highlight marine pollution in Alang, Gujarat, the site of the world's largest ship breaking yard, resulted in the ship not being allowed to dock in Mumbai for eight days. And when they were allowed to dock, the crew was not allowed to disembark.
The first phase was in Alang; the second phase was in Mumbai, where the crew was to conduct programmes to commemorate the Bhopal gas tragedy; and the last phase was in Kochi where, the watchdog says, the Hindustan Insecticides Limited, which runs the only DDT factory in the world, is poisoning the Periyar river.
On November 12 the ship arrived at Alang and found that the Genova Bridge, owned by V Ships Commercials, London, had beached there. The watchdog said the Genova Bridge was laden with toxic substances like asbestos, waste oil, sludge, the carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyl and tributyltin, and demanded that it be sent back to Britain.
"We are not against ship breaking, but we want it done in a clean manner," Adarsh, an Indian volunteer onboard the vessel, told rediff.com on Sunday.
"Following protests by Greenpeace, the Ministry of Environment and Forests directed the Gujarat Pollution Control Board to inspect the vessel," Namrata Chowdhury, the watchdog's media manager, said. "Later, the GPCB acknowledged that the ship did contain toxins," she added.
She said earlier Greenpeace had exposed the Hesperus, a Norwegian ship that was sent to Alang. But at that time the authorities cleared the ship. "This time we were successful," Chowdhury said.
But in no time the tide was turning against the Rainbow Warrior again. Out of the blue came a directive of the Gujarat Maritime Board requesting the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard to seize the vessel and arrest the crew. The request, however, was turned down.
"Bhavnagar customs officials took our original papers and did not return them, and no agent was willing to represent us in Bhavnagar," said Chowdhury.
They sailed for Mumbai without the papers.
"When we came to Mumbai to carry out the second phase of the programme, the customs authorities did not allow the ship to dock. We were stuck off the coast of Mumbai for nearly eight days," she said.
Adarsh said, "Our water reserves were running out. We had just enough water to drink and cook. Bathing was out of question."
After a lot of lobbying, the authorities did allow the ship to dock, but then the immigration authorities created another hurdle. The crew -- from the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Lebanon, Ghana, India, New Zealand and Australia -- was told that it could not disembark.
"Some of the members have to be relieved. They have to take flights to their countries. Some new people have to take charge, but all that cannot be done now," said Adarsh.
The organisation blames "vested interests and the mafia in Gujarat" for their plight.
"They do not want these things to come to light, because it costs them money to detoxify the ships," Adarsh said.
Shanti Patel, ex-member of Parliament and trustee of the Mumbai Port Trust, is one of those helping the crew.
He told rediff.com: "Greenpeace is a worldwide movement and I think they are doing a good job. I don't know why the authorities are behaving in this manner. It doesn't portray a good picture of our country. All they want is that ship breaking should not be injurious to the environment and to the people who do it.
"In fact, there have been several explosions in Alang over the past few years and some people have died there."
The Rainbow Warrior will sail for Kochi on December 9 and the crew hopes that it will receive a warmer reception there.
"We are used to such things. No authorities like us because they think we are against development. Wherever we go we are stonewalled, but that does not stop us from carrying on our work," Adarsh said, handing a deck of cards with the name of the "most polluted ships" in the world.
The Hesperus was the Jack of Clubs.