Our guest blogger, Gabriel Manrique, is an independent documentary filmmaker who
focuses on social and environmental issues and the co-director of
‘Sandgrains’. He joined the crew of the Arctic Sunrise last month.
Gladys, our Greenpeace liaison in Senegal, had skillfully navigated us through Dakar customs, and we were on the tarmac to board a helicopter which would take us to the Arctic Sunrise. I had flown by chopper only once before and was keenly looking forward to filming from one, but had no idea how much fun it would be.
We had just spent two intense months shooting the documentary Sandgrains in the Cape Verdean archipelago, 350 miles west of the ship’s location. Our interest in the adverse effects of EU fishing in the region coincided with a Greenpeace campaign, so we joined the ship’s crew for eight unforgettable days. The film we’re making follows former footballer Zé Fortes who returns to his little fishing village to figure out where the beach has disappeared, and why this could possibly have anything to do with EU fisheries. So now me, Zé, and co-director Jordie Montevecchi were on our way to the Arctic Sunrise after a dramatic flight over the slums of Dakar and the awaiting ocean.
The converted Greenpeace icebreaker was on a mission to intercept, expose, and document EU fishing vessels who are devastating the West African seas. There was no lack of transgressions to document; a Russian trawler had already been found hiding its name with tarpaulin.
My co-worker Jordie will never forget the first four days, for sure, as he spent them green-faced in his bunk, cursing the waves. Zé on the other hand had some Cape Verdean sea farers’ resilience to the constant rolling.
While waves rammed the ship, and Jordie suffered, I got to know the friendly crew, and I was overjoyed by chef Willy’s food. As a vegetarian in Cape Verde, I had eaten over 140 eggs, roughly three a day for two months, and was now fed amazing buffets on a regular basis. I actually hugged Willy before disembarking.
Although our experiences on the ship differed, the one thing that struck us all speechless was seeing the cluster of 140 meter supertrawlers, each sucking up 250 tons of fish per day through strange tubes, in front of our very eyes. We pursued the unimaginably large ships for days outside of the Mauritanian coast, and daring actions were done by the crew as we got close enough.
I was filming one such action from the helicopter when events could have turned to the worse. I’d heard over the radio that someone had sustained a back injury, and after landing I saw Jordie being carried off the rib on a stretcher; a wave had slammed into the inflatable when he was filming. After the initial wave of panic, caused by thoughts of Jordie in a wheelchair, I was struck by the horror of having to record both audio and video while interviewing at the same time, on a windswept and unstable boat. Thankfully for Jordie and production, he came out of it fine, with no injuries, and was on his feet recording just a few hours later.
Our eight days on the Arctic Sunrise were simply too few and too brief, particularly if you don’t get seasick. At night, when we were adrift and the floodlights were on, dolphins would play at the ship’s bow, covered in glowing plankton and chasing little squids who were attracted by the glare. When weather kept us indoors, we’d watch films with the crew in the cozy mess, but most days were intense and filled with action. It was truly an unforgettable experience and an invaluable addition to the Sandgrains documentary.