SYDNEY — THE Portuguese protest ship Lusitania Expresso turned back about 13 miles from East Timor after being warned away by three Indonesian warships yesterday.
Australian officials are relieved that the ship, carrying a total of 150 people, did not try to provoke the Indonesians who had announced that the ship was not welcome.
"There could have been an incident," said John Kerin, acting minister for foreign affairs and trade. However, he added the ship's captain had assured government officials that the safety and welfare of the passengers was important.
The protesters were successful at attracting attention to their trip. News media coverage was extensive in Australia and Portugal. On March 6, Sen. Claiborne Pell (D) of Rhode Island, chairman of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee, noted the trip was a "symbolic gesture to remind the Indonesians and the world that the suffering of the East Timorese people since the 1975 Indonesian invasion has not been forgotten."
The original purpose of the trip was to lay wreaths at a cemetery in East Timor where Indonesian troops massacred civilians on Nov. 12. Instead, peace activists, students, and Australian and Portuguese politicians on the ship threw wreaths on the water off the East Timor coast.
The ship started its trip in Darwin, an Australian city about 450 miles southeast of East Timor, which was a Portuguese colony until 1975 when Portugal withdrew and Indonesia invaded.