Greenpeace flotilla set to confront nuclear vessels


The largest anti-nuclear protest held on the Irish Sea is expected to reach a climax today when a flotilla of seaborne campaigners comes face-to-face with a shipment of nuclear fuel heading for Sellafield.

The Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior and other boats in the flotilla plan to form a 16-mile wide cordon across the Irish Sea as the two British Nuclear Fuels ships arrive off the coast of Ireland.

The anti-nuclear activists spent the weekend getting in position for the arrival of the BNFL vessels, Pacific Teal and Pacific Pintail. But for much of the time, a fog-shrouded ocean refused to yield up any information regarding the whereabouts of the two ships.

However, yesterday evening, a spotter plane hired by Greenpeace finally located the nuclear convoy off Brest, on the west coast of France. Earlier, prompted by fears that the shipment had evaded the waiting protesters, the flotilla had split in two. One half headed directly to Barrow-on-Furness in Cumbria, where the nuclear shipment is due to be unloaded, and the other half including the Rainbow Warrior moved south in the Irish Sea, to a location east of Carnsore Point.

The BNFL shipment is expected to arrive at Barrow tomorrow morning, or possibly this evening; the time of arrival depends on tides and the speed of the convoy. The company has declined to specify the route the ships are taking.

The decision to split the flotilla was taken at a meeting of ships' captains near Holyhead, where the boats had gathered on Saturday.

Some 18 boats of varying sizes from all parts of the British Isles are taking part in the protest.

"It's a game of cat-and-mouse from here on in, but whatever happens we'll let them know we're here," commented Greenpeace activist, Mr Shaun Birnie. He said the decision to split the flotilla was a compromise."There was a strong feeling that we should be at sea when they come by and that we should be defending a part of the ocean. But we know too that we could miss them."

Campaigners remain optimistic that they can run up against the shipment, pointing out that the Irish Sea is only 60 miles wide. Several months ago, they staged a protest at the passage of the shipment through the sea straits dividing Australia and New Zealand, which is 80 miles across.

Although BNFL has said its boats will not travel through Irish territorial waters, the Defence Forces are expected to monitor closely the ships' passage off the coast of Ireland.

The Government, while making its opposition to the shipment clear to the British government, says it can do nothing to stop the ships once they keep out of Irish waters.

The shipment is returning nuclear fuel to Sellafield, which was rejected by a BNFL client in Japan after it emerged that BNFL staff had falsified quality control data relating to the fuel.

While Greenpeace has said it will not try to block the passage of the BNFL ships, it has worked out various "protest scenarios". However, the BNFL ships can travel about two knots an hour faster than the Rainbow Warrior, so any protest action is likely to be brief.