UN Maritime body seeks to evict Greenpeace

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Feature story - 20 June, 2003
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 world's oceans.

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.

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