John Hocevar, aboard the Rainbow Warrior in Malta, describes how sailors from one of the Mediterranean's largest tuna fishing companies violently attacked a female crew member trying to inspect and document their trawler's cargo. Watch the video evidence for yourself. This originally appeared on the Making Waves blog.
Today things got ugly.
We are in Valletta Harbor in Malta. We learned that there were two vessels here owned by Fuentes, the tuna tycoon who controls over half the bluefin catch in the Mediterranean. We decided to board the vessel to inspect the cargo and documentation. Three women, Emma, Rita, and Liz, were the first to volunteer.
After the vessels refused our polite request to allow us access, Emma stepped on board to press the point. She was immediately attacked – they punched her, pulled her hair, picked her up and threw her overboard. One person hurled a large wooden pallet which whistled by our heads, and another tossed a full bucket of paint into one of our boats. If either of those had hit their intended targets, someone could have been seriously injured.
"Greenpeace is not known for taking no for an answer. For us, the violent response to a simple request to inspect the vessel reinforced our belief that they had something to hide"
Greenpeace is not known for taking no for an answer. For us, the violent response to a simple request to inspect the vessel reinforced our belief that they had something to hide. And even if they did not, greater transparency is essential to ensure that vessels are not able to obscure the kinds of illegal activity which have contributed to the bluefin’s decline.
We climbed onto the pier, where Emma again tried to board one of the Fuentes vessels. She was viciously assaulted by a burly sailor twice her side, holding her down and punching her repeatedly in the face. (We brought her to a clinic here for treatment, and she has a black eye and her neck is swollen but she's ok.)
We refused to leave the pier, which is private property, until the two vessels were inspected. The police came, and boarded the two vessels. They reported to us that they did not see tuna on board, and that Malta fisheries inspectors were on the way. Then we were taken to the police station, where statements were taken but no charges were filed against us. Whether or not the fishermen will be charged with assault remains to be seen.
Unfortunately, corruption is widespread in the Maltese Fisheries Conservation and Control Division. After several calls, they finally blurted “will you stop calling please; we’ve been instructed not to talk to Greenpeace. If you want to pursue this further, I suggest you take this up with the Fisheries Minister.” Calls to the Fisheries Minister went unanswered, but we will take this up with him in detail later.
There is a lot at stake here, especially for bluefin tuna, which are being mismanaged out of existence. But also for fishermen – including many of the ones we spoke to last week, which are no longer able to make a living except by towing fish caught by much bigger, more expensive boats.
We were happy to see a French warship out on the high seas, inspecting tuna vessels. The Mediterranean is too big for inspectors to cover every boat, however, and illegal activity continues. And unfortunately, even the legal catch is far too much for the population to sustain.
Last year, we overheard one tuna vessel owner complaining that it was not fair that Greenpeace activists were often women, as it’s awkward to beat them up. Apparently, times have changed – these thugs did not hesitate. Of course, their violent attack has already backfired, turning what could have been a simple (and frankly not very interesting) inspection into an international incident. Footage of the attack has already traveled widely, and the story – and the fight to save bluefin tuna - continues to gather momentum.