In the eight months since the Prestige spilled an estimated 12,000 tonnes of oil, Greenpeace has been active, demanding an accelerated ban on single-hull tankers, a scale-back in the use of oil worldwide, and a tightening of loopholes that allow dangerous rust buckets to sail under flags of convenience. Today the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which is charged with protecting the health and safety of our seas, leapt into action with their response: they kicked Greenpeace out.
A oil cleanup volunteer holds a Comorant covered in oil from the sunken Prestige oil tanker on the coast of Galicia, Spain.
In a move sponsored by, among others, Cyprus and Australia, the
Chair of the forty-member UN body removed Greenpeace's decade-old
observer status without a vote. Cyprus along with co-complaintant
Turkey are among the "flag of convenience" states which have met
criticism from Greenpeace for their willingness to license
substandard and dangerous oil tankers.
The move threatens to evict a non-governmental organisation
dedicated to the protection of the world's oceans from a United
Nations body which is, ummm, dedicated to the protection of the
Remaining inside the IMO with consultative status are such
industry lobby groups as Intertanko, the industry association of
supertanker owners. This despite the fact that supertanker oil
spills such as the Exxon Valdez, the Erika, and the Prestige have
been responsible for environmental, economic, and human
catastrophes the world over. The interests of these groups,
however, will continue to be heard by the IMO.
Despite the façade of noble purpose, the IMO is in fact
financially dependent on the tanker industry. The dues paid by each
country are determined by the tonnage of their respective fleets,
which makes the large flag of convenience countries - Panama,
Liberia, Greece, Cyprus, and others -- the largest contributors; in
turn the oil companies often pay these dues and will even represent
these countries directly at the IMO. Longtime Greenpeace
representative Rémi Parmentier said "I remember once a Panamanean
delegate with a double sided business card: one side saying Panama
Consulate and the other one saying 'Exxon Legal Office, NY.'"
The charges against Greenpeace Maritime protest. The complaint
from Turkey notes that in July of 2002, activists chained
themselves to various parts of the oil tanker "Crude Dio" and hung
a banner reading "STOP THE OIL INDUSTRY. CLEAN ENERGY NOW!"
Australia noted that Greenpeace had protested ships carrying
genetically modified soy beans and shale oil.
The shipping industry has been trying to brand Greenpeace
actions as "dangerous" for years, despite the fact that the real
dangers are the cargoes such as oil, plutonium, and toxic wastes
which we take action against. In the 2002 Annual Report of the
shipping industry lobbyists Intercargo, the group raised the
spectre of a potential "tragedy" that might result from "protestors
in small boats" and the prospect of a "nautically naïve activst
attached to an anchor cable."
Safety is parmount to Greenpeace at all times. Our activists are
thoroughly trained, our nautical standards and expertise have
earned the respect of coast guards and maritime specialists around
the world. Unlike the oil industry, we don't put other people's
lives or the environment at risk with our actions.
At a time when United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has
called for a strengthening of the role of civil society at all
levels of the UN, removing Greenpeace from the IMO simply
demonstrates the unfettered powers of the oil industry and
multinational corporations in today's world. As the doors of the
IMO close to all but the corporate dealmakers and backroom
politicos, Greenpeace will continue its fight to protect our oceans
and its struggle against unsafe cargoes. This fragile earth
deserves a voice. The IMO has a duty to listen.