A letter to the environment minister– from M/Y Bob Barker

The Sea Shepherd’s (SS) “Operation Relentless” met the relentless Japanese fleet in the Southern Ocean this whaling season– at least three times. As in the past seasons, there are dramas. Expect fleet chasing, water bomb exchanges, and ramming of vessels, for example, like an action-packed, adrenalin-pumping movie scenes. This season, however, the SS claims to have exercised restraint not to fight back during sea encounters. But it’s losing its patience when the Japanese whalers allegedly throw heavy metal objects at My Bob Barker crew and attacked the vessel. The harpoon ships also made repeated attempts to damage My Bob Barker’s rudder and propeller.

Captain Peter Hammarstedt, master of M/Y Bob Barker, said that early this week the Japanese harpoon ships Yushin Maru and Yushin Maru No. 3 trailed hundreds of metres of steel cable across his bow and the attacks nearly hit the vessel’s propeller prompting him to.launch his Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) to defend his ship. The Australian Customs Vessel (ACV) could have help, but to now avail. So here’s a full letter to Environment Minister Greg Hunt:

Sea Shepherd fleet clash with Japanese vessels. (Photo: Adelaide Now)

Sea Shepherd fleet clash with Japanese vessels. (Photo: Adelaide Now)

25th of February, 2014

The Hon. Greg Hunt

Minister for the Environment

Dear Minister,

Every year leading up to the Antarctic whaling season, the Governments of Australia, New Zealand, The Netherlands and the United States of America ask both parties in the struggle over the sanctity of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary to show restraint. It’s an easy way to skirt taking any actual responsibility for the clashes that occur in the Antarctic– why enforce the law against poachers when it’s so much more convenient to just ask them to play nice?

I admit that I had a glimmer of hope when you made a pre-election promise that an Australian Customs Vessel (ACV) would be sent to the Southern Ocean this season. It was a welcome move that gave me great comfort, especially after my vessel, the Bob Barker, was rammed repeatedly by the much larger Japanese factory whaling ship Nisshin Maru last year. But that promise was weathered down by the Abbott Government as the promise of a ship devolved into the promise of an aircraft, transformed into a plane that’s only flown once this entire season.

Well Minister, I believe that I’ve shown restraint this season in the good faith that we had the protection of the Australian Government. But after sustaining two consecutive and completely unprovoked attacks, some of the most ruthless assaults in the history of Sea Shepherd’s Antarctic Whale Defense Campaigns, I’m losing hope.

When the whalers throw heavy metal objects at my crew, I instruct them to not throw anything back – not even in self-defense. When the harpoon vessels attacked my vessel for the first time this season, I sought the sanctuary of Macquarie Island in my bid to lose them, rather than launching small boat action after small boat action in an effort to lose the criminals stalking me. And yet now, I can’t so much as come within sight of the factory whaling ship before the harpoon ships make repeated attempts to damage my rudder and propeller.

On the 23rd of February 2014, when the Japanese harpoon ships Yushin Maru and Yushin Maru No. 3 trailed hundreds of metres of steel cable across my bow, I informed them by radio that their actions were illegal. I told them that I have nine Australian citizens on board and even flew the Australian flag from my foremast to extenuate the point. I stated clearly that the Australian Government had been informed. And yet the attacks were not deterred. Each narrow miss of my propeller reminded me that that ACV could have prevented the attack.

I was left with no other choice but to launch my Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) to defend my ship. The following day you again made a statement calling on all sides to respect international maritime law stating that the facts of what happened are still unclear.

Well, that elusive ACV could have documented every harrowing minute of the blood-chilling ordeal and had they done that, then I’m sure that it would have been equally clear to them that there is a big difference between two poaching vessels towing 250 metres of steel cable with the intent to deliberately damage the rudder and propeller of a conservation ship; and a conservation ship deploying small boats in an effort to defend itself from a sustained attack. The aim of the whale poachers is to subvert the law whereas ours is to uphold the law. I did not launch my RHIBs until after alerting the Government of Australia and New Zealand Search and Rescue that I was under attack.

Minister, I have no doubt that you’re a passionate advocate for the whales and I commend you for your strong statements in defense of them. I even recognize that if the choice had been yours and yours alone, then an ACV may even have been sent. But that aside, in the absence of any kind of law enforcement down here, and as promises are broken, my ship is getting battered and my crew are getting pummeled. On behalf of my Australian crew I have to wonder, how much abuse are we expected to take before it is made clear to Tokyo that the Australian Government will not tolerate unprovoked attacks against its citizens?

I realize that the attack on my vessel occurred outside of the Australian Antarctic Territory, but the safety of Australian citizens, even outside of Australian waters is the responsibility of the Australian Government.

I implore you to make it exceedingly clear to the Government of Japan that unprovoked attacks on Australian citizens, and the vessels that carry them, will not be tolerated by the Australian Government any longer.

The Sea Shepherd fleet has found the factory whaling ship three times this whaling season. We will find them again. And when we do the weather will be rougher and the nights longer. If the Australian Government does not prevent a third attack, then I will have no choice but to resign myself to the reality that the Australian Government has surrendered the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary to Japanese whale poachers.

I cannot in good conscience not intervene if I see a crime taking place before my eyes, in this case the killing of threatened, endangered and protected whales.

Where there is an absence of law enforcement, I will have no choice but to fill that law enforcement void.

Yours Hopefully,

Captain Peter Hammarstedt

Master, M/Y Bob Barker

Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary

Antarctica

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A policy of death and horror for asylum seekers

Following the brutal murder of Reza Berati, 23, an Iranian asylum seeker detained in Manus Island detention camp last week, political observers said his death is inevitable, an example of  a policy that works—that is deterrence. Operation Sovereign Borders reiterates the message: Do not attempt to take a boat to Australia.

A migration agent who is working on the island said the detention center is intended for indefinite detention, not as a processing centre as promised. Liz Thompson, one of the agents hired by the Australian government to prepare the processing of applications, said the  process is fake.

Thompson said the facilitity is designed as “an experiment in the active creation of horror” to deter people from trying to take the chance to get into Australia. She spoke to Mark David on Dateline on Tuesday night to unveil more of the horror in the detention camp.

She initially stated:

Manus Island is…. the active creation of horror in order to secure deterrence. And that’s why I say again, Reza Barati’s death is not some kind of crisis for the department, it’s an opportunity to extend that logic, one step further – to say ‘This happens, but deterrence continues, Operation Sovereign Borders continues.

Riots broke out on Manus Island last week after detainees were briefed of resettlement to Papua New Guinea (PNG). In actuality, there is no processing going on. Thompson said the asylum seekers are smarter than the script they were instructed to say. About a hundred detainees were injured following an attempt by 35 to escape. Violent clashes followed leaving Berati fatally injured in the head. Local PNG residents were alleged to have attacked the detention center resulting in clashes between the detainees, the guards, and police.

Investigation is ongoing while Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has been under fire from various groups for his “incompetence” to do a high profile job.

A shrine for Reza Berati during a candlelight vigil in support of asylum seekers in Brisbane, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. The nationwide vigil was held to mourn the death of the 23-year-old Iranian who died in a detention centre on Manus Island after he sustained a fatal head injury outside the centre on February 18. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Waleed Aly, in his column at The Age, earlier said the death of Berati is the logic of the policy– to sanction horror.

This is the very logic of our asylum seeker policy – which is built on the sole rationality of deterrence – to create horror. We’re banking on it. That’s emphatically the point. So now, let us make this calculus finally explicit: whatever these people are fleeing, whatever circumstance makes them think they’d be better off chancing death on boats hardly worthy of that description, we must offer them something worse. That something is PNG.

The worse it is, the more effective it is destined to be, and the more it fulfils the philosophical intentions of the policy. Put simply, this tragedy is not any kind of evidence of policy failure. It is, in fact, the very best form of deterrence. This is what it looks like when the policy works.

Grassroots hold rally

Rallies and vigils were held nationwide to condemn the current government policy. Last Friday, more than 2,000 people marched in an emergency rally in Melbourne to press the government to shut down Manus detention camp.

Thousand of people march in Melbourne to condemn the death of an asylum seeker in Manus Island. (Photo: Daniel Taylot/Socialist Alternative

The demonstration began at the State Library and was culminated at the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. The crowd included Greens MP Adam Brandt; Mohammad Baqiri – a refugee detained on Nauru under John Howard; Michele O”Neil – state secretary of the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union; and Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

Speakers condemned the policy as well as the complicity of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). The ALP, under the then Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd governments transacted the re-opening of Manus detention camp.

Protesters stormed the building of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Melbourne. (Photo: Daniel Taylor/Socialist Alternative)

Abbott nailed the fate of asylum seekers on Manus when he won the federal election in September last year.

O’Neil said what is going on in Manus is currently in the hands and responsibility of Abbott and his immigration minister.

Curr urged, “We have to maintain the rage because, if we don’t, they will just wipe over and Reza Berati will be just another victim of a brutal Australian regime….”

Protesters chanted “Close Manus now!” Some threw fake blood on the windows of the building while the crowd chanted “Abbott, Morrison: Blood on your hands”.

Protesters will hold another rally to demonstrate refugees rights March 1.

Candlelight vigils nationwide

On Sunday, about 20,000 people joined in candlelight vigils held in major cities and districts all over Australia. About 5,000 people turned up in Melbourne, while about 4,500 lighted candles in Sydney. Organized by Getup, Light the Dark is a demonstration of solidarity against inhumane treatment of asylum seekers. Participants said the brutal slaying of Berati does not speak of majority of Australians.

SamMcLean said Australians have been really shocked to see somebody who came seeking protection but to instead brutalized to death.

Candlelight vigil in Sydney (Photo credit: Amnesty Australia/GetUp)
Light the Dark vigil at Federation Square, Melbourne (Photo: from GetUp)

Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support Network spokeswoman Emily Conolan, who spoke at the Hobart event, says a message needs to be sent to policy-makers. She said the death is not the first under Australian care and what it represents is a “catalyst or a flash point” which has mobilised Australians “who are shocked and disgusted and outraged at the events that have led to this.”

UN’s response

The United Nations refugee agency highlighted the need to address “significant shortcomings” in the process by which Australia moves asylum-seekers to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and called for a probe into the incident on Manus Island.

Babar Baloch, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva that the agency is “very concerned” about the recent developments on the detention center.

Based on three visits to Manus Island, UNHCR has consistently raised issues around the transfer arrangements and on the absence of adequate protection standards and safeguards for asylum-seekers and refugees in PNG. The last visit was in November last year.

Baloch said that “significant shortcomings” in the legal framework for receiving and processing asylum-seekers from Australia remain, including lack of national capacity and expertise in processing, and poor physical conditions.

“We also highlighted that detention practices are harmful to the physical and psycho-social well-being of transferees, particularly families and children.”

He stated that UNHCR stands ready to work with the Governments of Australia and PNG on how best to ensure that asylum-seekers, refugees and stateless persons receive appropriate protection

Foreign Minister proposes Cambodian Solution

While tension over the death of an asylum seeker escalates, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop asked her Cambodian counterpart Minister Hor Namhong to take in some of the boat arrivals.

Cambodia, one of the world’s poorest nations also saw the exodus of refugees escaping war and starvation in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The ministers raised the possibility of Cambodia to return the favor of housing refugees.

However, Labor and Greens mocked the proposal. Australian Greens leader Christine Milne, while acknowledging Cambodia was a signatory to the UN refugee convention, is concerned about the country’s political climate.

“Here is Julie Bishop appeasing a regime engaged in human rights abuses,” she told reporters in Canberra adding there had been a crackdown on dissent.”

Blog Link: The Green Journal

Chaos, distress at Manus detention camp

This is a developing story at the Manus Island detention centre, Papua New Guinea, for asylum seekers. Riots erupted Sunday for two nights in a row with Monday night more brutal than Sunday. Mainstream and alternative media reported conflicting accounts, but Immigration Minister Scott Morrison confirmed this morning of one death and scores of others critically injured.

Morrison can only say the situation is “distressing” while civic groups said the distress is expected. Human rights groups said Tony Abbott’s Operation Sovereign Border failed to uphold human dignity. 

Civic action against offshore processing outside the Department of Immigration, Melbourne. (Photo: The Green Journal)

Have they been told to rot in Manus without a hope to see the ray of day in promised land? Asylum seekers in Australia’s “Gulag” are reportedly informed they have to stay in the detention centre or they have to seek refuge somewhere else – but not Australia. The current policy reiterates Australia’s door is shut.

Last Sunday’s meeting with Immigration Minister Scott Morrison enraged detainees at the PNG island’s detention centre. Morrison reportedly announced that they would remain in limbo for good. Morrison, however, denies reports that he told the detainees they were not to be resettled in Papua New Guinea.

Thirty-five detainees tried to break out on Sunday but were rounded up by detention guards and PNG police. They clashed with the officers, smashed window panes, knocked down power poles, and breached security fences. Bunk beds and tents were also destroyed and 19 people sustained injuries.

(UPDATE: Asylum seeker dies in Papua New Guinea camp)

Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC), said police used force “out of proportion” to contain the protestors. In the RAC website , he said “the number of broken hands and baton injuries indicate a use of force…. One asylum seeker has 70 stitches in his head. “ He is calling for an investigation.

Rintoul said that after the riot, they received reports that Manus Island locals have armed themselves with machetes, knives and guns while an insider fears sections of the perimeter fence have been torn down by locals. The detainees are growing increasingly anxious that they will be the victims of vigilante action.

The Refugee Action Collective join the protest against Manus Island’s detention centre. (Photo: The Green Journal)

There were also reports that local PNG G4S guards have pulled out of at least one compound and asylum seekers have been told that if there is any attack by the locals, G4S will withdraw totally.

The asylum seekers are fearful that there will be a repeat of the situation last October when they were left defenceless when G4S pulled out of the detention centre in the face of clashes between PNG army and PNG police. The RAC continued:

The imposition of the detention centre on Manus Island has created local tensions from the very start. The lack of transparency about resettlement has added to the tensions.

If those tensions are now turned on the asylum seekers themselves the responsibility will lie with the Australian government. The deal to establish a detention centre on Manus Island was always toxic.

The detention centre has shattered the peace on Manus Island. Peace will not be restored until the detention centre is closed. In the meantime Scott Morrison is responsible for the safety of the asylum seekers he has dumped on Manus Island.

Socialist Alternative long opposes Pacific Solution before Operation Sovereign Border. (Photo: The Green Journal)

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott enforced Operation Sovereign Border after he won the election in September last year. It is a hardline policy to stop the boats carrying asylum seekers to Australia. He said the only way to avoid disturbances at detention centres was to ensure asylum seekers didn’t try to come to Australia by boat.

“If you come to Australia illegally by boat this is, I’m afraid, what happens to you. As far as this government is concerned the way is shut,” he told a local radio.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International released a new report, This is Breaking People: Human Rights Violations at Australia’s Asylum Seeker Processing Centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, which uncovers the truth about Manus Island and the degrading conditions in which asylum seekers are forced to live.

Blog Link: The Green Journal at Asian Correspondent

Heatwave engulfs Australia

Mercury has risen to over 40 degrees Celsius for many days in most states of Australia this summer. Hard-it by the heatwave includes Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales igniting bushfires.

The Black Saturday flares up in Victoria (News Ltd)

The Black Saturday (2009) rages in Victoria. (News Ltd)

The ABC reports that several homes and farm properties have been destroyed as dozens of bushfires burn across large swathes of Victoria.

It said there is no confirmation yet on the exact number of losses, as Victorians faced their worst fire threat since Black Saturday just days after the fifth anniversary of the disaster.

High temperatures and strong winds fanned the intense and fast-moving blazes, as a weather change swept across the state bringing wind gusts up to 100 kilometres per hour.

By mid-afternoon yesterday, there were 70 fires burning across Victoria, and stretch from Goongerah in the far east of the state to the Latrobe Valley.

Fires are also burning in more densely populated areas around Melbourne.

Meanwhile in South Australia, a watch and act message remains in place for a large blaze at Bangor in the Southern Flinders Ranges.

Read on…..

A spectacular rock formation at Pangil Beach in Currimao, Ilocos Norte, Philippines. (Photo: The Green Journal)

Finding refuge from heatwave in the cool water beneath the giant rocks. (Photo: The Green Journal)

The Green Journal has taken a break during this time as this blogger took a trip northbound to chill out. Islands in the Pacific – a perfect getaway! Write back soon!