It is reported protest boats are in the water just south of Melbourne as the dredger steams into the bay. Hundreds of anti-dredging activists have also gathered on piers at Point Lonsdale and Rosebud, and the mouth of the Yarra.
The southern waters of Australia, including Port Phillip Bay, have the highest diversity of marine species anywhere in the world.There are 5,000 species in the bay, 90% occur nowhere else on Earth and many have never been fully studied.
Activists say the threats posed by the dredging operation are huge and include:
* the loss of over 100 species that occur nowhere else on Earth, including unique and beautiful sponges, corals and seagrasses.
* damage to the habitat of penguins, dolphins, seals, sharks, whales and thousands of marine plant and animal species that interactively rely on Port Phillip Bay.
* threaten the many thousands of jobs in tourism, fishing and diving and their support industries by this sustained assault on the health of the bay.
* release industrial contaminants and toxicants, trapped in Yarra silt, into the water which would then be dumped in the bay. Because of this, heavy metals such as Cadmium, Mercury, Zinc, Lead and Arsenic and Ammonia would re-enter the food chain.
* provide less in benefits than the current sustainable Bay related industries. The diving industry alone provides $70 million per year, the same amount as the figure for estimated benefits of channel deepening.
In the world of the bizarre, the anti-channel deepening group the Blue Wedges Coalition which is at the forefront of today's action has joined Somali pirates, Peruvian raiders and Gulf terrorists on the US Office of Naval Intelligence's international threat list.
Blue Wedges joins Greenpeace as the only groups included in the threat list under the section headed: Environmental and Economic Non-State Activist Groups.
Blue Wedges, which has not had a history of violent protest, has also recently been monitored by a Victoria Police division that includes the counter-terrorism unit. The group says police have been monitoring its email communication via the Facebook internet site regarding an Australia Day protest.
“We are very concerned that the U.S. Naval intelligence agency has got it so terribly wrong”, says Blue Wedges President Jenny Warfe. “We are a peaceful group, committed to non-violence. We have never committed acts of violence towards any one or any thing and never have any intention of doing so. In fact at our last protest over West Gate Bridge (October 2007) the police left us to be "self-regulating" because of our impeccable record of peaceful protest."
“The only threat to human life, property or the environment comes from the Queen of Netherlands dredging ship, due to arrive tomorrow” says Jenny Warfe. “This ship is set to cause irreparable damage to the Port Phillip Bay environment. There are also grave public health risks...Unfortunately much of the toxic risk data never made it into the public arena during the Inquiry process last year. POMC scientists have also predicted penguin deaths, fish stock losses and say the risk of toxic algal blooms ranges from 'possible to highly likely'. Oil spills are also set to increase due to an increased risk of ships running aground at Port Phillip Heads, although the PoMC’s risk analysis specifically excluded assessing the magnitude of that risk”.
“If they have been to our meetings unannounced, what’s the next step? Inserting active radicals to create an embarrassing situation to blame on Blue Wedges? People should be concerned. Not about Blue Wedges, however. Rather about the arrival of the dredging ship due to dock tomorrow” says Ms. Warfe
Close monitoring of Blue Wedges appears to go back several years, with The Age obtaining confidential Victorian Government documents that show the group's activities were watched and evaluated by Port of Melbourne Corporation staff and contractors in 2004.
By the way, the Dutch company that will dredge Port Phillip Bay's shipping channels says it will reap half a billion dollars for its work. After repeated refusals by the Brumby Government to disclose how much it will pay to have the dredging done, the company has blown the whistle by telling a European stock exchange it will receive "approximately 300 million euros" — or $500 million.
The following article is from the Herald Sun (Australia).
Queen of the Netherlands arrival to spark protests
Police face a potential confrontation on Port Phillip Bay today when a giant dredger arrives in Melbourne to begin the controversial channel deepening project.
The Queen of the Netherlands is due through Port Phillip heads about 10am before docking at South Wharf.
Protest boats will be in the water as the dredger steams into the bay, while hundreds of anti-dredging activists will gather on piers at Point Lonsdale and Rosebud, and the mouth of the Yarra.
A 1.4 square kilometre exclusion zone applies to all ships in the bay.
Patrolling of the dredging operations will be carried out by private security guards employed by the Port of Melbourne Corporation.
But water police will be called if anyone breaches the exclusion zone around the Queen of the Netherlands or any of its barges.
Ports Minister Tim Pallas also has the authority to create a 12 square kilometre restricted area at any point on land to thwart any protests.
Anti-dredging group the Blue Wedges Coalition denied protesters would break the law and slammed Australian Federal Police and the US Navy for listing the group as a risk to shipping.
"The only threat to human life, property or the environment comes from the Queen of the Netherlands," Ms Warfe said.
"This ship is set to cause irreparable damage to the Port Phillip Bay environment. There are also grave public health risks.
"The threat of oil spills has also increased due to a greater risk of ships running aground at Port Phillip Heads."
Blue Wedges will launch a last-ditch bid in the Federal Court tomorrow to overturn Commonwealth approval for the dredging.
The $1 billion, two-year project to deepen Melbourne's shipping channels is set to begin on Friday.
It will involve the removal of 23 million cubic metres of sand, rock and toxic sediment from the bay to enable super container ships to dock.
Currently, ships with a draught of less than 12m can enter the bay. That will increase to 14m at all tides.
The Brumby Government says the project will deliver spin-offs worth $2 billion.
But Ms Warfe said the arrival of the Queen of the Netherlands was a dark day for the bay.
"This ship is set to cause irreparable damage to the Port Phillip Bay environment," she said.
"There are also grave public health risks. Port of Melbourne Corporation data reveals that people may develop serious illnesses as a result of swimming in the toxic plume."
She said scientists predicted penguin deaths and fish stock losses, and indicated there was a significant risk of toxic algal blooms.
Port chief executive Stephen Bradford says the project is essential for the state economy and will proceed subject to unprecedented environmental controls.
They include the appointment of an independent monitor and a $1 million environmental bond.
The corporation also says the project will reduce the risk of oil spills by keeping ship hulls further from from the bottom of the bay.
It claims its environmental management plan is the most stringent in the world attached to a dredging project.
Surfrider Foundation's Melbourne beach representative, Bill Pemberton, said that US Navy and federal police interest in Blue Wedges was ridiculous.
"It's just overkill and it's astounding that they feel so afraid," Mr Pemberton said.
"We have no plans to protest any other way than peacefully and legally and I don't know of anyone else who has plans for anything different."