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Rights row over Chilean torture boat at Amsterdam nautical festival

Chilean school navy ship, Esmeralda
Chilean school navy ship, Esmeralda Wikimedia / Denis C. Cantrell

Human rights campaign were up in arms this week over the presence of the Chilean ship Esmeralda at festival for historic boats in the Dutch town of Amsterdam because political opponents of General Augusto Pinochet were tortured on it during the 1970s military dictatorship.


This is the first time that the Chilean school navy ship is included in Sail Amsterdam and it has brought controversy to the event. Some Chilean exiles felt uncomfortable at the idea of the vessel being somehow celebrated when coming to the Netherlands.

Mapuche, a Dutch-Chilean association of exiles, said in a statement that it looked as if Chile was trying to cover up the Esmeralda's past since at least 100 people were tortured or raped on board during Pinochet's 1973-1990 rule.

Amnesty International also expressed disappointment at the fact that the boat's dark past was still taboo and was not mentioned on the official Sail website.

Sail took a conscious choice to welcome the controversial ship, according to spokesperson Jan Driessen.

“We must learn from our past," he said in a statement. “There will be no mention of the ship’s history of torture. We just look at the nautical history of the ship.”

The tall ships taking part in Sail Amsterdam, held every five years, left the western Netherlands port of Ijmuiden for Amsterdam, accompanied by a flotilla of smaller private boats. They will be staying in the city until Sunday.

Over 600 ships take part in the event - from a replica of an 18th-century frigate to historic warships. Organisers expect around two million visitors with ships moored in Amsterdam harbour until Sunday.

Highlights include the Etoile du Roy, a reproduction of a 1745 frigate used in the British television series Horatio Hornblower, and the Belem, a French 19th-century steel-hulled three-master.

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