After spending the past three days anchored off the shore of Port Colborne, the Greenpeace vessel MY Arctic Sunrise went into action on Lake Erie Thursday morning, blocking a freighter loaded with coal from reaching the Nanticoke power generating station.
"They're in full action mode right now up in Nanticoke," said Paul Ruzycki, a Greenpeace representative and Port Colborne native, who has been serving aboard the Arctic Sunrise. He was in his hometown when the protest occurred, purchasing supplies for the ship.
Ruzycki said the Greenpeace activists aboard the Arctic Sunrise stopped the Algomarine, loaded with 30,000 tonnes of coal from reaching Nanticoke. The ships were anchored about 24 kilometres from shore during the protest.
The Greenpeace activists also "managed to paint the side of the ship," Ruzycki said.
In white lettering, they painted "No nukes. No coal. Clean energy now," across the hull of the Algomarine, owned by Algoma Central Corp. of Sault Ste. Marie.
Three members of the Arctic Sunrise crew, two women and a man, also boarded the Algomarine.
At about 8 a.m., two of the protesters, Dominique Du Sablon, 20, of Toronto, and Charlie Latimer, 25, of Vancouver, chained themselves to the ship's unloading boom.
A few hours later, a third protester, Emily-Elizabeth Storey, 22, of Toronto, chained herself to the ship's rudder.
"It's a beautiful day out here in the lake. I'm looking at a coal ship and it's now anchored and not delivering coal to Nanticoke," Shawn-Patrick Stensil, energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, said yesterday morning, a few hours after the protest began.
By about 1:30 p.m., those three protesters were removed from the ship and arrested.
Besides being arrested, the protesters also put themselves in serious danger of injury, added Allister Paterson from Seaway Marine Transport, which manages the vessel for Algoma Central Corp.
He said the actions of the protesters were "exceptionally dangerous. You'd have to have a death wish, I think, to do something like that."
Paterson said he can't understand how the protesters even managed to board the Algomarine.
"The ship is 700 plus feet long and they're very high. It's an athletic feat to climb, there's no set of stairs. It's exceptionally dangerous, because if you fall and you go under, you're dead."
Stensil said the protesters knew the risks, but felt the environmental message they were sending was more important.
"This is an environmental wrong, frankly it's a moral wrong and the environmentalists that went out on the boat this morning new that. That's why they're willing to take the risks," he said.
With the safety of the crew, as well as the protesters in mind, Paterson said the Algomarine's crew "parked the vessel. We shut it down. Locked it down and anchored because what they were doing was not safe for anybody. We just wanted to be sure no one on the crew and none of the protesters got hurt."
Greenpeace went into action at about 4 a.m., Thursday when the Arctic Sunrise, which had been anchored off the coast of Port Colborne, began its search for the Algomarine.
They found the ship about four hours later, en route to Nanticoke. As four Zodiacs were launched into the water towards the Algomarine, Stensil radioed the Algomarine, and told her captain, "We need to stop climate change within the next 10 to 15 years, and Nanticoke is Ontario's biggest threat to the climate," he recalled.
"I let him know that the protesters were coming and it was a peaceful protest, nonviolent, as per Greenpeace philosophy," Stensil said. "I asked him as a citizen of the world, to refuse to deliver that coal."
When Stensil finished talking to the Algomarine's captain, there was only static over the radio.
"You can't respond to that," Paterson said. "You don't negotiate with people who are going to board your ship and that sort of thing. Whatever the intent, it's illegal. It's unsafe, and it's a very dangerous thing to do."
Following the arrest of the three protesters, Stensil said the Arctic Sunrise sailed near the canal where Nanticoke's coal would be unloaded, in a further attempt to block the Algomarine.
Despite the delays caused by the Greenpeace protest, Paterson said the Algomarine's crew won't go anywhere near the Arctic Sunrise.
"This isn't our dispute. We're a third party in it. We're a charter coal mover and we're not going to go anywhere near it. We're in no hurry to go in. We've just set anchor and we'll let the dispute play out," Paterson said.
The protest garnered a large response from police, who dispatched boats and helicopters to the scene.
In fact, Stensil said the Arctic Sunrise's captain Pete Bouquet, who has been involved with the organization since 1978, told him the last time he'd seen a police response like this was when they tried to interfere with a transport of nuclear missiles in Europe several years ago.
"It kind of makes you wonder, the public's really behind closing coal generation plants, but then the entire police force is surrounding Nanticoke," Stensil said.
Ontario Provincial Police Const. Paula Wright, who contacted The Tribune from the scene of the protest, confirmed that there was a significant police presence there - although, at the time, she couldn't describe the extent of the police response.
"We're still operational. That's why my information's limited at this time," she explained.
She did, however, say "there were enough of a police presence to ensure the safety of the Ontario Power Generation and our community."
John Earl, media spokesman for Ontario Power Generation (OPG), which runs the power plant, said the plant notified police, increased security, and warned the community in anticipation of the protest, through letters distributed to neighbouring homes.
"Of course our concern is that we want to ensure the safe reliable operation of our station, safe for our staff, safe for the community around the station and safe for Ontario consumers so that electricity supply isn't threatened," Earl said. Although there have been reports that Nanticoke staff received additional training on how to deal with the protesters, he would not discuss it.
Earl called the protest a "willful, unlawful act by Greenpeace to impede international transport in the international shipping lanes. That's about the extent of it. It was a willful determination on the part of Greenpeace to act against that vessel."
Stensil said Greenpeace is a "peace-based organization, nonviolent and we confront environmental wrongs. We stop nuclear waste dumping in the ocean, we help preserve the rain forest in B.C. a few years ago. When you're doing this stuff often you make enemies, but in the end it's better for everyone around."
The Arctic Sunrise has been in Lake Erie since Monday, promoting the development of clean renewable energy rather than coal and nuclear power generating stations, like Nanticoke.
It's already too late to stop climate change, Stensil said. In fact, the average world temperature has already increased by more than half a degree.
The work Greenpeace is currently involved in, Stensil added, "is about stopping dangerous climate change, that would be a 2§ C increase in global temperature."
There's only 10 to 15 years to prevent that temperature increase, he added. If that doesn't happen, he said scientists are warning that droughts and rising sea levels will create "environmental refugees." He said resolving the issue and eliminating greenhouse gas emissions is urgent, and Nanticoke is Ontario's biggest producer of greenhouse gas.
"If we don't start shutting Nanticoke down in the near term by investing in other options that are quick to deploy, we're not doing our part to stop that."
The power plant is also a significant contributor to smog levels in the air, particularly over southern Ontario. Smog has been linked to 6,000 deaths a year, in Ontario alone.
Earl said he would not "get into a debate" about Greenpeace's accusations.
While Nanticoke is a large coal-fired station, Earl said, compared to other similar power station, "its rate of emissions is very favourable. It's one of the better stations."
He said OPG has "done a lot over the years to look at ways to reduce emissions. At the same time, we have tried to make sure that this plant operates safely and reliably, providing at sometimes up to 20 per cent of the electricity that's used in Ontario."
While Greenpeace works to promote clean, renewable energy, Earl said OPG is the largest producer of clean, renewable energy in the province through its hydroelectric generators in Niagara Falls. OPG is also nearing completion on the new hydro tunnel being built in Niagara Falls, which will create enough hydro electric energy to power a city twice the size of Niagara Falls.
He said OPG also pioneered wind and solar generation in Ontario, until they were asked by the provincial government a few years ago "to withdraw from the small green energy market place because there was concern that our size would inhibit entrepreneurs from entering that market."
The Arctic Sunrise is scheduled to be at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto during the Labour Day weekend, where it will be open for tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Ruzycki said he'd tried to organize a public tour of the ship in Port Colborne, but was told there was nowhere the Arctic Sunrise could safely tie up.
A year and a half ago, Ruzycki was serving as first mate aboard the Greenpeace vessel Esperanza, trying to stop a Japanese whaling fleet from killing minke whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, off the coast of Antarctica.
But working with Greenpeace so close to home is unusual. The international organization hasn't been in the Great Lakes since 1995.
"It's nice to be home," he said. "I've been to more than 60 countries with Greenpeace, but to sail through the Welland Canal and actually get off in my hometown for a change."
The message Greenpeace is here promoting, he added, is something he's been eager to do.
"I've been hoping to raise awareness for renewable energy sources in the area," he said.
When he learned, earlier this year, about plans to bring the ship into the Great Lakes to promote clean energy, "I thought, 'Perfect.'"
© 2007 , Osprey Media.