Le Défi Areva's new ACC boat FRA-69 was rammed and holed by Greenpeace activists at its launch this weekend

Assessment to the damage of the brand new French America’s Cup yacht, Areva, continues today. The yacht was baptised to the accompaniment of insults by protesters on Friday evening and on Saturday was holed when one of a flotilla of Greenpeace RIBs rammed the yacht on the starboard side.

The two sides are at loggerheads over whether the action was accidental or deliberate. Greenpeace say the incident was unintentional and occurred as the RIB was trying to put someone ashore. However, the crew of Areva dispute Greenpeace’s account that the ramming happened accidentally. They maintain that the RIB collided directly with the yacht at 15 knots and warn that they have video footage showing exactly what happened. Some 11 people were arrested after the collision

Several different environmental activist groups joined forces to protest the Areva sponsorship of the French America’s Cup syndicate. Areva is a large international group involved in civil nuclear energy. The protests resulted in damage to the new yacht, FRA 69.

The Port of Lorient, the host town of the French syndicate, was active all weekend with several inflatable boats towing yellow barrels and steel wire nets threatening to close the harbour’s narrow entrance to the sea. These boats, flying Greenpeace flags and banners, and accompanied by a fleet of sea kayaks, hovered ominously all day on Saturday in anticipation of FRA 69’s departure for its first sea trials.

At noon the French syndicate’s management took the decision to cancel the day’s planned sailing activities, judging that the risk of damage to their new boat by the activists was too much. The boat was then moored across two pontoons to help with a photo opportunity for the large press corps mobilised for the boat’s first outing.

Having decided to then take FRA 69 out of the water the boat was moved to the Travelift dock. It was here that the activists started to become more aggressive, approaching the ACC boat. The Harbour Police and the syndicate’s own tenders and RIBs manoeuvred to protect FRA 69 and a cat and mouse chase started, the activists turning in tighter and tighter circles to try and break through the gaps left by the guard boats.

Suddenly one of the RIBs found a gap, throttled up to about 15 knots and rammed FRA 69 just behind the starboard shrouds. The damaged area is about one square metre.

Le Defi Areva is pressing this issue, no doubt hoping that protesters can be deterred from high profile action in New Zealand. This was an act of delinquency, they say, and far from being an unintentional glancing blow, the collision was equivalent to a force of 25 tonnes. They state that the damage to FRA 69 is serious and that the protesters stove the hull in at the level of the chainplates, causing delamination. A complete structural assessment of the yacht will be needed, they add

One of the boat’s designers, Philippe Pallu de la Barrière, from the Yaka Design Team, said: “This kind of boat is able to resist hundreds of tonnes of pressure but not being punched. It is not a warship. The outer carbon skin is damaged and the honeycomb has been crushed. We’ll need to wait for ultrasound analysis so we can make a precise diagnosis. Repairs seem possible. We will know in three or four days – possibly more. Personally I am very upset and I think that there is absolutely no excuse for this.”

“It was a deliberate act of aggression,” commented Xavier de Lesquen, president of Le Defi Areva. “The team were insulted and attacked on the water as they prepared the boat for the ceremony. The threshold of tolerable behaviour was crossed [on Friday] morning. These people do not respect anything, even their own commitment to non-violence? They put the boat and the team members in danger.”

Pierre Mas, Le Defi’s technical director, said: “It’s a kamikaze act. There could have been casualties on both sides. Those of us who have worked for months on this project are extremely disappointed, and shattered by Greenpeace’s attitude.”

Maritime police could bring charges of ‘boarding at sea, voluntary destruction and endangering life’ against the arrested protesters.