By Vivienne Porzsolt
and Tom Jordan
About 30 boats of the Sydney Peace Squadron took to Sydney Harbour at 7 a.m. on January 9, to protest against the arrival of the giant US aircraft carrier Ranger, with its four companion ships.
Three of these five ships are known to have carried nuclear weapons in the past. In October 1991, the US government decided to remove tactical nuclear weapons from the ships and said it was dropping its position that it would "neither confirm or deny" the presence of nuclear weapons on ships.
However, in practice the policy is maintained. In connection with this visit, the US would not deny the presence of nuclear weapons on the Ranger — in particular, the presence of strategic weapons, possibly hydrogen bombs.
In its heyday in 1987-88, the Peace Squadron was able to turn out up to 120 boats — from ocean going yachts and motor boats to the tiny kayaks of Paddlers for Peace. They came driven by the fear of nuclear annihilation and determined to prevent the entry of US and British nuclear ships. Spectacular actions were staged, and the entry of the ships was often held up for several hours.
With the decline in the danger of nuclear attack, the urgency has diminished. There was no major attempt to delay the ships. This did not stop a police boat from targeting the boat of Democrat NSW Senator Richard Jones. Witnesses reported that the police deliberately ran him down and held him in his boat under the water.
The next day, in a daring daylight raid, members of the Peace Squadron succeeded in lighting a bright orange flare on a pontoon attached to the Ranger. No-one was apprehended or arrested.
The Ranger, a veteran of the Vietnam and Gulf wars, is no stranger to protest. It was sabotaged by its own crew in protest at both of these foreign adventures.
It was one of many aircraft carriers immobilised by such action in 1972, during the bombing of Vietnam. A paint scraper and iron balls were dropped into a central mechanical part, causing $1 million worth of damage and 3
55D> months out of action for repairs.
Pat Chenoweth was arrested and charged with "sabotage in time of war", despite the fact that the US was not officially at war with Vietnam. If he had been found guilty, he faced a maximum of 35 years' imprisonment. However he was acquitted.
During the Gulf War, three sailors off the Ranger — James Moss, Danny Robertson and Abdul Shaheed — were charged with mutiny for trying to seize the captain and for interfering with the mission y some launching catapults. It is clear that they were helped by fellow sailors. The charges were dropped, presumably because the US military feared the publicity and the encouragement it might give to further actions of the same kind.
Another sign that warmongering for one's country is no longer seen as glamorous or respectable is that the visiting sailors quickly shed their uniforms for civilian clothes when coming on shore. In the past, those in the armed services would wear their uniforms in swaggering pride.