For all right thinking people, Greenpeace are beyond criticism, in fact they are an easy litmus test of good and evil – only the greedy, the utterly selfish could not approve of them, rescuing the whales, saving the rain forests, swimming out to the polar bears; what’s not to love..?
In the nineties I did half a dozen shipping voyages, mostly from Texas to north west India via the Cape of Good Hope, ferrying old single hull American tankers to be scrapped by running them up the beach in Gudjarat called Alang. They were then cut up to feed the ferocious building booms in Bombay and New Delhi.
It was an unusual work, the scrapping business, kickstarted by the grounding of the Exxon Valdez in Alaska with the subsequent widespread pollution. The Federal government then ordered the systematic scrapping of all single hull tankers. India was the place and I was the man for a spot of beaching.
It was nearly two months from Texas to the beach at Alang, then we’d wait for the next high water spring tide and with a twenty minute window, whack them up the beach at full speed; the further up the better to cut them up. Then to get off, we’d lower a lifeboat because, although the ships were firmly aground, they were so large and so long, they were still entirely surrounded by the sea – and then, in a low key encore, run the lifeboat up the beach and climb out.
As I said, I did half a dozen grounding to that particular beach and conditions were terrible for the people who worked there, terrible through western eyes, terrible through any eyes! Gujarat is one of the poorest part of poor old India. Black boiler oil seemed to cover everything including most of the beach, safety was negligible and life was cheap.
On the way over we used to, as a matter of course, clean the cargo tanks to gas free them. This was to give these poor agmis half a chance to survive in the lottery of cutting through a tanker's cargo holds.
One little guy (they were all small and spectral) worked a flaming gas torch followed by his mate, linked to him by the acetylene gas bottle on his back, burning, burning night and day to cut the ship back to its parts - and also through to what could be a tank full of deadly explosive gases – the residue of a thousand petroleum cargoes – and many weren’t even getting paid, it was daily subsistence for the less useful ones.
I was told that upwards of twenty thousand of these poor fuckers were working in the seventy or so scrap yards the lined that beach - and why did they do this terrible work..? - because there was no alternative..!
Greenpeace fastened on to it – and through direct and indirect lobbying had all the scrap yards closed down – and there really was nothing to say in their defence except of course it gave twenty thousand men work and so supported – Oh I don’t know, maybe a hundred thousand other family members.
So we all felt much better about it afterwards, the liberal Western middle classes...and don’t worry about the hundred or so thousand locals who mostly starved and died, they were never going to write to the Guardian anyway.