I have a small boat that I use for fishing and exploring where I live in the Manukau Harbour. It’s beautiful out there and it can get a bit wild but it didn’t prepare me for the fury of the North Atlantic or the serenity of the frozen seas of the Arctic.
I’m on the Arctic Sunrise, one of the two ice-class Greenpeace vessels here in the frozen north campaiging against deep sea oil drilling. I’m writing this from my cabin as we crash through the ice on our way West across the Davis Strait. It’s a two-berth cabin but I have it to myself because eight of our crew are now in a Greenlandic jail.
Three weeks ago we left Amsterdam at about the same time our fellow ship the Esperanza left England. We took slightly different routes but shared the same objective: to find and engage the Leiv Eriksson oil rig. We nicknamed it ‘The Beast,’ and it is a monster. A self-powered semi-submersible oil rig with two hulls and six gigantic legs. At over 100 metres tall and almost 100 metres square, it dwarfs everything around it. It’s been chartered by the little known Scottish oil company Cairn Energy. Cairn is the only company willing to risk drilling for oil in the Arctic this year and it’s our intention to stop them.
Just like Petrobras in the Raukumara, Cairn is about to risk everything by drilling for oil in areas previously thought to be too risky. Drilling in the deep Arctic sea - in an area where the weather is harsh and unpredictable, the season is short and travelling icebergs are a daily threat, is a risky business indeed. And it is now a risk that's worth taking. An oil spill here would be impossible to clean up and would devastate this unique and pristine environment.
As global warming causes the ice to retreat it should not be taken as an invitation to extract more oil – it should be seen as an indicator that we need to end our dependence on fossil fuels.
In our eventual confrontation with the Cairn oil rig, which was being guarded by Danish navy warships in Greenlandic waters, we managed to prevent drilling for almost 5 days. First with a two-person occupation of the rig using an Arctic Survival Pod and then with an 18 person delegation boarding the rig in search of its oil spill response plan. All 20 people were arrested and will be deported and banned from entering Greenland. As I write this we also await the court’s verdict on Cairn’s application for an injunction that, if granted, will mean Greenpeace is liable for 2 million Euros per day for any further interference with drilling operations. In some classic court room drama, the judge turned the tables on Cairn by asking them why they don’t release their oil spill response plan as we’ve asked, and if they respect the right to peaceful protest. The lawyers shuffled paper, sweated and mumbled, but the judge wasn’t finished yet. He went on to express real concern about Cairn’s ability to pay for a clean up operation, and was highly unimpressed when Cairn’s lawyers tried to reassure him that their liability was capped. He said that the issue was not about Cairn’s financial stability, but that it was about the impact on the environment.
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
We’re now in Canadian waters finding a way through the ice to transfer people between shore and ship. There’s sea ice everywhere, it’s cold and stunningly beautiful. We’ve seen whales, dolphins, seals and also this polar bear.
Seeing the Polar Bear here with a warship in the background I was struck by how well this illustrates the reason Greenpeace is here in the Arctic. The juxtaposition between the beauty of the lone bear and his surroundings, with the spectre of military conflict over a looming oil rush in the last frontier says it all.
How this all plays out we have yet to see.
You can read the whole story and find out what happened next here.
Photo 1 and 4 (C) GREENPEACE / Jiri Rezak
Photo 2 and 3 (C) GREENPEACE / Steve Morgan