The U.S. battleship New Jersey nearly ran down a yacht carrying anti-nuclear demonstrators as the ship maneuvered into Sydney harbor today through a flotilla of yachts, canoes and surfboards.
The New Jersey's skipper, Capt. Douglas Katz, said his 57,000-ton battlewagon would have been unable to avoid the yacht and probably would have sunk it had it not been dragged clear at the last moment.
"If it had not been for that police boat pulling it off, we'd have split it in half," Katz said. "The guy on that police boat was very brave."
The police boat managed to secure the yacht and tow it clear seconds before the battleship steamed by.
Other protesters in assorted small craft attempted to get alongside the ship and plaster it with anti-nuclear slogans, but were kept away by a cordon of police and Australian navy speedboats.
Police and navy divers jumped into the water to arrest two protesters.
Katz, 46, of Bluefield, W.Va., said demonstrators, some of them from the international environmental group Greenpeace, risked their lives coming so close to the New Jersey because turbulence from the ship's four 18-foot propellers could have sucked them underwater.
The New Jersey is visiting Australia with an international fleet of more than 40 warships to celebrate the bicentennial of European settlement of Australia.
Anti-nuclear demonstrators were protesting the New Jersey's presence because it carries Tomahawk cruise missiles. The U.S. Navy refuses to confirm or deny whether the missiles carry nuclear warheads.