Declaring themselves "Pacific Climate Warriors," representatives from a dozen Pacific Island nations—sitting atop traditional outrigger canoes, kayaks, and other small boats—staged a full-day blockade of the Newcastle Coal Port in Australia on Friday as they sent a message to the government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the world that they will not sit idly by as the activities of the fossil fuel industry and its backers continue to threaten the existence of their low-lying homes.
"The coal which leaves this port has a direct impact on our culture and our islands. It is clear to us that this is the kind of action which we must take in order to survive. Climate change is an issue which affects everyone and coal companies may expect further actions like this in future." —Pacific Climate WarriorsScores of boats and hundreds of protesters participated in the blockade, paddling beyond buoys marking the shipping lanes and placing themselves between the port terminal and the coal tankers moving in and out of the harbor. Police on jetskis reportedly intervened by creating waves, stripping the boaters of their paddles, and then tugging boats back towards shore.
The international climate action group 350.org, which helped organize the blockade, maintained a live blog for the action, including updates and pictures, which can be viewed here.
And Twitter users were documenting the action under the hashtag #StandupforthePacific:
Though Australia environmentalists have staged similar protests in the past at the Newcastle Coal Port—the largest such facility in the world—this is the first time they've been joined by Pacific Islanders in such a way. The island nations represented in Friday's flotilla include: Papua New Guinea, The Solomon Islands, Samoa, Fiji, The Marshall Islands, Tonga, Tokelau, Niue, Kiribati, Vanuatu, The Federated States of Micronesia and Tuvalu.
"The coal which leaves this port has a direct impact on our culture and our islands," said the Warriors in a joint statement. "It is clear to us that this is the kind of action which we must take in order to survive. Climate change is an issue which affects everyone and coal companies may expect further actions like this in future."
Mikaele Maiava, a warrior from Tokelau, said that after years of failed global climate negotiations it was essential for the Warriors to take direction action to stop climate change.
“It is very important for us to take direct actions against climate change because it is threatening our lives and our islands. Our land is the most valuable treasure in our lives and the impacts of climate change will destroy it. We don’t want this to happen and we will not allow it to happen.” —Mikaele Maiava, from Tokelau
“It is very important for us to take direct actions against climate change because it is threatening our lives and our islands. Our land is the most valuable treasure in our lives and the impacts of climate change will destroy it. We don’t want this to happen and we will not allow it to happen.”
And George Nacewa, a 350.org activist from Fiji, told Reuters: "This is important today because we are here to highlight the effects of climate change across our islands. We are not willing to drown because of climate change. We are trying to change the narrative from 'we are drowning' to 'we are not drowning, we are fighting'."
As the Guardian reports:
Kayakers were not permitted to go beyond yellow markers just a short distance offshore, but almost immediately a large number paddled past them into the middle of the waterway.
Within half an hour, the bulk carrier, Rhine, appeared, being pulled out of the port by tugs. Protesters quickly formed a blockade, hampered on one side by police boats. Police officers used boats to push the light watercraft back, and took jetskis around canoes to create wake and spray. The 225-metre vessel was delayed for a short time until police cleared the way.
One 47-year-old kayaker, Donna Bartlett, claimed a police officer on a jetski made contact with her bright orange kayak, knocking it against another and dislocating her finger. She said jetskis on either side of a group were sending protesters in opposite directions, causing chaos.
“The jetskis come, trying to get us unbalanced,” she said. “I’m scared today but I know the stakes.”
Zana Kobayashi, 25, from Newcastle, said she’d joined the protest because the federal government “doesn’t seem to be doing anything to address concerns [about climate change].”
Kobayashi, who was in a double kayak, said police on the water confiscated their paddles and towed them out of the way of the ship. When protesters began returning to shore, another officer towed them in. She said there were “a few aggressive characters” among the police officers.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who earlier this week declared that "coal was good for humanity," was a frequent target of criticism throughout the day among those at Newcastle:
— asad rehman (@chilledasad100) October 17, 2014