Kingsnorth Revisited:
Greenpeace climbers occupy coal freighter

Feature story - June 22, 2009
Greenpeace activists have boarded a bulk freighter carrying coal to the UK's controversial Kingsnorth power station in Kent. Just after midnight, Greenpeace volunteers intercepted the freighter using rigid inflatable speedboats. As the ship headed towards Kingsnorth, nine people succeeded in boarding it and scaled the huge E.ON-branded funnel and the towering foremast.

Greenpeace volunteers intercept a freighter carrying coal bound for Kingsnorth power station in Kent using rigid inflatable speedboats just after midnight on Monday 22 June 2009.

Dozens of police officers and a helicopter were soon on the scene, and six arrests were made. Although the ship has now managed to dock, climbers remain in position, and with enough food and water to stay there for several days, they are demanding that the cargo turns back.

You can follow the action on Twitter: @greenpeaceuk

Emma Gibson, a local mother-of-three, was one of three Greenpeace activists swimming in the river Medway in front of the jetty, trying to prevent the ship from docking and unloading. Before setting out, she said:

"We're going to swim right in front of the approaching ship and try to stop this massive coal shipment reaching Kingsnorth power station, because coal is the most climate-wrecking fuel there is. Every tonne of carbon counts, and E.ON's ship is delivering enough coal to pump tens of thousands of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. There's no way we can stop climate change if power companies are allowed to keep on burning so much coal. I'm terrified by the scale of the problem my children will have to deal with. We have to give the next generation a chance of beating global warming, and that's why I'm putting my body in the way of that ship."

Sarah Shoraka, a Greenpeace volunteer who was hanging off the foremast of the freighter, said, "Scientists are telling us we can't beat climate change if we keep burning coal, and yet the new policies will still allow E.ON to build the dirtiest new power station in Britain for the next 30 years. The experts say we have the technologies we need to slash emissions and power Britain with renewable energy and more efficient use of cleaner fuels, it just needs the politicians to give them the green light. New coal plants that emit huge amounts of carbon can never be the answer."

Protecting people and property

The Greenpeace activists still on board the ship say that by stopping the coal cargo being burned they are protecting people and property around the world from the devastating effects of climate change. This echoes the motivation of the Kingsnorth Six, another group of Greenpeace activists who attempted to shut down the plant in 2007. In an unprecedented trial, a UK Crown Court jury acquitted all six of criminal damage to the plant, finding their actions to be justified when considering the damage to property caused around the world by CO2 emissions from Kingsnorth.

Land next to the existing plant at Kingsnorth has been earmarked for the construction of the first new coal-fired power station in Britain for 30 years. The highly controversial plans have sparked a series of protests, but this is the first time a coal shipment to the site has been blocked and boarded. The UK government claims a new Kingsnorth plant will be cleaner but in reality, under the new policy announced in April, it will still pump three-quarters of its emissions into the atmosphere for years to come - six million tonnes of CO2 every year.

International impact

UK decisions on coal have an international impact. This year's international meetings on climate change, designed to prepare the groundwork for the summit in Copenhagen this December, have been uniformly unproductive, and the success of the Copenhagen talks is now highly uncertain. Prime Minister Gordon Brown will need to do everything in his power to give the UK and EU negotiating positions political and scientific credibility, both with his policies and his presence, if there is to be a chance of a meaningful agreement.

The G8 meeting in Italy on 8 July provides the next key opportunity to go into Copenhagen with some progress having been made. Greenpeace urges the G8 leaders to seize this opportunity and show leadership.

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