French commandos stormed two Greenpeace vessels Friday, reportedly smashing communications equipment and quashing - at least temporarily - the environmentalist group’s campaign to block nuclear weapons tests planned for two South Pacific atolls.
But another Greenpeace ship that left San Francisco early this month was expected to arrive at the nuclear test site Saturday with a group of American peace activists aboard.
Greenpeace activists accused the French commandos of cutting radio room cables aboard the Rainbow Warrior II and taking sledgehammers to the communications equipment.
“They’ve definitely trashed the place,” radio operator Tim Gorten reported via a hidden satellite phone as the ship was being towed away from the site, according to a Greenpeace statement released late Friday in Washington.
The statement also said five Americans - including American Samoa’s delegate to Congress, Eni Faleomavaega - were on the Rainbow Warrior II when it was boarded and were being taken to Tahiti for “processing.” A State Department spokeswoman, Phyllis Young, said she had no confirmation that any Americans were in the area.
Friday was the first day of the nine-month period during which France says it will detonate seven or eight nuclear devices at the atolls. Greenpeace organized an international protest flotilla to go to the area.
Sliding down ropes from helicopters and crawling up from rubber rafts, the commandos took control of the Rainbow Warrior II and the MV Greenpeace, which had been leading the flotilla.
“They’ve just come alongside the ship. They’ve put this grappling hook on the lower deck,” Greenpeace spokeswoman Stephanie Mills, aboard the Rainbow Warrior II, told Associated Press Television as the storming scene unfolded at dawn.
“They’re knocking at the windows …. They’ve pushed our cameraman over,” Mills said before the line went dead.
Hours after the Rainbow Warrior was boarded, Navy commandos boarded the MV Greenpeace from helicopters. The boarding was ordered after a Greenpeace helicopter that flew over the test site.