My Brush With History

Krasnapolsky copy

Two recent thoughtful comments on my GM update made me think back to my brief encounter with Greenpeace. It was 1978-80 and I as living and working in Amsterdam in a 5-star hotel called the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky.

I was dating a Dutch girl named Marijke who worked for Greenpeace and who’s headquarters were in Amsterdam at the time. Marijke was a kind and gentle soul who used to chastise me about cooking lobsters. Being a young man in my early twenties living in Amsterdam I wasn’t into much else except cooking, my art and drinking too many beers.

As a favour, Marijke asked me if I would paint some banners for Greenpeace in English.
Up until this point, my perception of Greenpeace was a well-meaning organisation that was run by a bunch of peace-nicks out of touch with the real world…but boy was I wrong. Here was a group of highly educated people from various scientific disciplines trying to save the planet from the greed and ruination of companies and governments with no moral compass. As I waited for the painted slogans to dry I got into a conversation with several scientists to ask them what this protest was about. First I was shown various types of flatfish (Dover sole, lemon sole and plaice) that had been caught earlier that day. All of them had ugly looking ulcer type growths on them… see for some years the German chemical company Bayer had been dumping chemical waste in the Dutch part of the North Sea. Rather than dump this toxic waste inside Germany they had been paying the Dutch Government so many millions of guilders per year to drive it into Holland then onto boats to be dumped in the North Sea.

rainbowwarrior   Sunk Warrior

If this wasn’t bad enough instead of dumping this waste into our ocean in thick non-corrosive barrels this toxic yellow soup was pumped into the sea by putting a hose over the side on the boat and switching the pump on.

Now I was outraged, the arrogance of the drug company the duplicity of the then Dutch Government…surely no one thought this chemical waste would stay in just the Dutch part of the North Sea a narrow channel with swift currents?

As a thank you for painting the banners, I was invited to go to a party on the fabled “Rainbow Warrior” and also saw it on TV news draped with my English slogans. I was struck at the time by how big the ship was, at 40 metres long (131ft 3 inches) a steel-hulled former fishing trawler that weighed 418 tonnes this was not some little wooden boat.

I was equally dumbstruck in 1985 when I heard the news it had sunk in a harbour in New Zealand.

Of course years later it came out this act of terrorism had been committed by the French secret service and it had taken two magnetic limpet mines to do the job. Someone in the French Government had decided it was time to stop Greenpeace from protesting France’s Pacific Nuclear tests.

The intention was to just sink an empty ship. The first bomb went off at 11.38pm, creating a large hole about the size of a small car. Agents intended the first mine to cripple the ship and cause the crew to evacuate it safely. But in fact, some of the crew returned to the ship to investigate and film the damage. A Portuguese-Dutch photographer, Fernando Pereira went to fetch his camera equipment when the second bomb went off killing him, the ship sank 4 minutes later.

It was 30 years ago on the 10th July 1985 that this act terrorism took place but I was surprised how little attention has been shown by media organisations to this sombre anniversary in 2015.  Yes, it was 30 years ago but blowing up Greenpeace’s boat was such an act of lunacy it deserves to be remembered that even normal governments have madmen inside them.

Ref: Bayer Dumps Acid and other Wastes in the North Sea and the Rhine


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