Global Head Of Greenpeace Kumi Naidoo Faces Jail for Scaling Arctic Oil Rig

Feature story - June 17, 2011
South African Kumi Naidoo, who is also our International Executive Director, has entered an exclusion zone and scaled a controversial Arctic oil rig 120km off the coast of Greenland.

Kumi Naidoo On The Esperanza

Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo of South Africa prepares to take action against the Leiv Eiriksson oil rig, on the Greenpeace ship Esperanza in the Davis Strait off the coast of Greenland. © Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace

Naidoo is demanding that the rig’s master orders an immediate halt to drilling, and is requesting a copy of the rig’s missing oil spill response plan. The document has been at the centre of a month-long campaign of direct action in the Arctic.

At 5am this morning an inflatable speedboat carrying Naidoo was launched from the Greenpeace ship Esperanza. It evaded a Danish navy warship that has been circling the rig for several weeks and he then climbed a 30 metre ladder up the outside of one of the platform’s giant legs.

His action comes a week after the operators of the oil platform, Cairn Energy, obtained an injunction against Greenpeace from a Dutch court, imposing fines of 50,000 Euros a day for any breach of the exclusion zone.

Cairn sought the injunction after 20 Greenpeace activists were been arrested on the rig for stopping the rig operating. As the head of the global organistion, Naidoo himself volunteered to scale the rig and personally deliver a new appeal to the rig for an end to dangerous arctic oil drilling. As he scaled the platform he carried the signatures of 50,000 supporters from all over the world who have demanded that Cairn explain exactly how it would deal with a BP style deep water blow-out in the Arctic.

Before leaving the Esperanza for the race to the Leiv Eiriksson he said:

“For me this is one of the defining environmental battles of our age, it’s a fight for sanity against the madness of a mindset that sees the melting of the Arctic sea ice as a good thing. As the ice retreats the oil companies want to send the rigs in and drill for the fossil fuels that got us into this mess in the first place. We have to stop them. It goes right to the heart of the kind of world we want and the one which we want to pass onto our children.”

He continued:

“The Arctic oil rush is such a serious threat to the climate and to this beautiful fragile environment that I felt Greenpeace had no choice but to return, so I volunteered to do it myself. Cairn has something to hide, it won’t publish its plan to clean up an oil spill here in the Arctic, and that’s because it can’t be done. I’m going onto that rig to give them the names of fifty thousand people who’ve emailed them to demand they publish their plan, and I won’t leave until I have it in my hands.”

“People may wonder why I as an African care about what's happening in the Arctic, but scientists say that the unprecedented warming up here could have grave knock-on consequences for vulnerable people across the world. That's because a warming Arctic could dramatically change weather patterns many thousands of miles away. At some point we have to draw a line and say no more, and I say we draw that line here and now in the Arctic ice."

Repeated Calls for the Spill Plan

Greenpeace has made repeated requests for Cairn’s oil spill plan, including making a visit last month to the company’s headquarters to ask that it be made public. Cairn claims the Greenland authorities won’t allow it to publish the spill plan, but Greenpeace has legal advice making it clear that Cairn could easily publish the plan if it wanted to. Publication of such a plan is normal practice in the industry and the Arctic Council’s Offshore Oil and Gas Guidelines clearly state that oil spill response mechanisms should be in place before drilling begins and that operators should allow for public review and comment on the oil spill response plan.

Before granting the injunction last week, the Dutch judge made a point of highlighting the dangerous nature of Arctic drilling and how unusual it was that Cairn had not released its spill plan. He said:

“[I]t must be conceded to Greenpeace International that the oil disaster which occurred in the Gulf of Mexico showed the great risk of drilling at great depths. Capricorn [a fully owned subsidiary of Cairn Energy] has not disputed that if a similar scenario were to develop at the drilling locations at issue, it would be very difficult due to the climactic circumstances in the area, which permit navigation for only a few months a year due to the formation of ice, to stem an oil spill. A leak of this kind could indeed have major consequences for humans, wildlife and the environment in a large region… The injunction judge has taken note of the fact that Capricorn is not willing to publish its oil spill plan.”

Kumi, 45, was a youth leader in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, where he was arrested several times and charged with violating provisions against mass mobilisation, civil disobedience and for violating the state of emergency. He lived underground before being forced to flee South Africa and live in exile in the UK.

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