Activists ram Le Defi

Protest over nuclear sponsor gets out of hand

Saturday May 18th 2002, Author: James Boyd, Location: France


Le Defi Areva shortly before the incident

This afternoon FRA-69, the newly launched boat of French America's Cup challenger, Le Defi Areva, was rammed at speed by a Greenpeace RIB.

Activists from Greenpeace and other environmental pressure groups have been protesting the French America's Cup challenge since they accepted sponsorship from Areva, a large French nuclear power group. During last night's launch of the project there was a small presence by four enviromental pressure groups who had told the local authorities that they would be making a passive protest against the syndicate.

Today the French AC team were due to make their first public outing in Lorient harbour. 1,000s of spectator boats were expected in a day that was set to culminate in a giant extravaganza with fireworks and live music in Lorient this evening.

Throughout this morning the activists were out on Lorient harbour towing drums and wire nets behind RIBs and motor boats and generally behaving in a threatening manner. Seeing this Le Defi were forced to cancel their parade around the harbour. Instead they organised a photo shoot for the team with the new boat in the water and all the team on board in front of their newly built base.

At this time there were numerous Greenpeace craft including kayaks, dinghies and RIBS milling about which were being kept back by a mixture of marine police and RIBs from Le Defi.

At around 02.00pm local time, FRA-69 was back in her travel lift and was about to be lifted out of the water. The pressure was building among the protestors and just as the boat was about to come out a RIB with four occupants in it charged through the marine police cordon and drove at full throttle into the side of the boat hitting it on the side of her hull just aft of the chainplate area on the starboard side.

French photographer Christian Fevrier who witnessed the incident believes the RIB struck at around 15 knots. "There were not enough rubber boats from the marine police and they were not prepared," said Fevrier. "They should have put a steel cable up to protect the boat".

The impact did hole the hull, but the impact is believed to have caused delamination of an area of around 1sqm of the hull. This is excepted to take five to six days to fix. Following the incident the four occupants of the RIB were arrested. The members of Le Defi are said to be devasted by the incident.

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