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Torture ship to dock in B.C.

A Chilean Navy vessel allegedly used as a floating torture facility in the years of the Pinochet regime has been invited to moor in Victoria and Vancouver early next month.

The Esmeralda, one of the largest sailing ships in the world, is now used as a training vessel for Chilean Navy cadets. As a part of its annual Pacific tour, the ship is also acting as a roving embassy for the Chilean government, navy, and state.

The Canadian Navy will be coordinating the reception of the ship along with local and provincial officials, the Victoria Tall Ships Society, and members of the Chilean diplomatic corps.

In a telephone conversation with The Tyee, Lieutenant-Commander Gerry Pash, Navy Public Affairs Officer stressed the routine nature of the ship's tour and reception.

"We have the HMCS Ottawa on the other side of the Pacific in Australia right now," says Pash. "This is what navies do."

But according to some, the typical diplomatic pleasantries should not be extended to a ship with such a grisly past.

On June 9th, the Victoria City Council passed a motion urging both the provincial and federal government to deny Esmeralda access to the city's harbor.

"It is not about revenge, but acknowledgement and how to reconcile." said Mayor Dean Fortin speaking of the motion at the meeting. Acknowledging the controversy surrounding the ship, the Mayor went on to express his hope that the ship's crew would not be mistreated by the public, a sentiment echoed by Lieutenant-Commander Pash.

"I would hope that the 334 members of the Chillean Navy who are visiting Victoria would be treated with respect and welcomed as well as Canadian sailors are when we visit Chile," says Pash.

Though the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet came to an end in 1990, no Chilean government has acknowledged the role the ship might have played in any human rights violations.

The Esmeralda will dock in Victoria on August 1 before sailing for North Vancouver on August 6.

Ben Christopher is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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