Sea drama for swashbuckling activists

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 October, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 October, 2003, 12:00am

Greenpeace fails in mission to collect toxic mud from dredger

Pirates of the Caribbean it wasn't, but Greenpeace's boarding of the barges busily reclaiming Victoria Harbour yesterday certainly provided its share of action.

Abandoning swords and puffy shirts in favour of plastic buckets and overalls, the swashbuckling environmentalists met minimal resistance as they swarmed aboard the dredging rig.

It was only when they started digging for treasure - in this case a few scoops of toxic mud - that things got heated.

Words were exchanged, buckets confiscated, samples tipped out and police called as the argument raged from one barge to another.

Looking on from a junk hovering nearby, Greenpeace campaigner Kevin May declared the mission 90 per cent successful - even before two police launches arrived to mediate in the dispute.

'We managed to board the barges and express our concerns,' Mr May said.

Those concerns centre around worries that sediment on the harbour floor may be far more toxic than government-commissioned studies indicate, and that the dredging will only further disperse it into the marine environment.

Greenpeace wants to independently test a mud sample.

The government estimates 639,999 cubic metres of sediment, 74 per cent of which is classified as heavily polluted, will need to be removed to make way for phase three the Central reclamation project.

The mud is so laden with pollutants such as mercury, cadmium, copper, lead and silver that as a condition of their contract, the government is forcing dredgers to use a watertight scoop and an underwater enclosure, or silt curtain, to prevent toxic substances escaping the excavation area.

But Greenpeace says these precautions are far from effective. Water around the dredge site is discoloured and liquid can be seen pouring out of the scoop.

'You shouldn't dredge toxic mud in an open system,' Mr May said, unfazed as the police returned Greenpeace's boarding party to their ship, empty-handed.

The Territorial Development Department later invited Greenpeace to witness the testing of a sample taken by the contractor, but Mr May said the organisation would not compromise.

'We demand that the government stop continuing this project,' he said.

'[Otherwise] we will consider adopting further high-profile actions.'