UN organisation seeks to silence Greenpeace

Feature story - 17 November, 2003
One year following the Prestige oil spill, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has done nothing to prevent further catastrophes. Instead, the organisation is trying to remove the consultative status of one of its most outspoken critics: Greenpeace. Here's what you can do to help ensure the IMO has to factor in the voice of the planet and its people when it makes decisions, rather than just the voices of vested interests in the shipping industry.

The International Maritime Organisation's most visible action in response to the Prestige oil spill: a move to evict Greenpeace.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is the UN body charged with responsibility for ensuring 'safer ships' and 'cleaner seas.' Greenpeace has had consultative status since 1991, and has worked for stricter regulations against dozens of environmentally unsound practices, from the transport of high-level radioactive waste at sea to a ban on single-hulled oil tankers.

The IMO Council took action to expel Greenpeace in June 2002. Several member states, including Cyprus and Turkey, lodged complaints that Greenpeace practiced unsafe seamanship. Not coincidentally, several of these countries are Flag of Convenience states, which have been the targets of Greenpeace protests for operating unsafe oil tankers or carrying unsafe cargoes in the past. Without a vote, the Chair decided to uphold the complaints and expel Greenpeace, saying the decision would be "forwarded for formal decision to the IMO Assembly." That assembly takes place between November 24 and December 5 in London.

This decision is unprecedented.

At forums such as the IMO, Greenpeace speaks for the oceans. We speak for the ecosystems that have no high-paid lobbyists to defend them, for the whales and dolphins that can't lodge a complaint against the oil giants. We counterbalance industry lobby groups as Intertanko, the industry association of supertanker owners. (Which, incidentally, has never had its consultative status threatened for "unsafe seamanship" 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.)

At present the Rainbow Warrior is at the shipbreaking yards in Alang, India. The current practice in this business, for which shipowners are responsible, is to simply send their old ships for beaching when they contain a wide range of toxic substances and fuel oil. Lives have been lost and livelihoods ruined as a result. Yet the IMO has failed to adequately regulate this practice to protect lives and the environment allowing the current practices to continue. There is a need for a mandatory regime, which ensures that ships are cleaned of all hazardous materials before being sent to scrap yards, to end this appalling practice.

Greenpeace International has Consultative Status in Category II with ECOSOC (the UN Economic and Social Council), and we take part as an official observer at a wide range of political conferences and conventions. No other forum, either regional or global, has ever expelled Greenpeace.

Under the IMO's own guidelines, an observer can be expelled for specified reasons, for example if an organisation has failed to attend meetings regularly or changed its activities. None of these are grounds that can be made against Greenpeace.

Rather, following the complaints made by some member states, the IMO is claiming that some Greenpeace activities, in highlighting the environmental problems associated with shipping, has contravened the 1972 collision regulations; so-called COLREGS. These are important safety laws which aim to ensure safety at sea. It has not been contested by any State that Greenpeace is a non-violent organisation and uses peaceful means to highlight bad practices. The IMO moves are based on complaints such as protests against GMO shipments, substandard tankers and nuclear shipments.

We believe that the safety of life at sea and the protection of the marine environment are of paramount importance. These concerns underpin all our work - both the issues we address and how we address them.

Safety comes first for 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.

The claims made in the IMO are false. Greenpeace has never been taken to court, much less prosecuted for violating COLREGS. In fact, when we were first granted consultative status, Greenpeace made a commitment to abide by the rules of good seamanship, including the COLREGS and has reaffirmed this commitment to the IMO since then.

Furthermore, the way that Greenpeace operates and the issues which we tackle have not changed since we were first given consultative status in 1991. And our fundamental commitment to speak out on behalf of the planet, despite attempts to shut us down and shut us up, has not changed since 1971.

The reality is that our activities have upset some members of the shipping industry - those which are involved in environmentally damaging activities. If the IMO's mission is truly to protect the seas and ensure safer shipping, they shouldn't be shooting the messenger: they should be taking action now to ensure disasters like the Prestige oil spill never happen again.

Take Action

Send a message to the IMO: Don't Silence Greenpeace.

Here are the responses to date to our written request to know where members stand on evicting Greenpeace. We'll update this chart as more nations clarify their position. You can help them clarify their position by sending a message telling them not to silence Greenpeace.

Supporting Greenpeace Consultative Status?
Argentina No Response
Australia No Response
Austria No Response
Belgium Supporting Greenpeace
Brazil No Response
Canada No Response
Chile No Response
China No Response
Denmark On the condition that Greenpeace International in a convincing manner confirm [obligations to safety at sea], the government does not intend to support the proposal of taking away Greenpeace International's consultative status
Fiji No Response
Finland Finland is unlikely to support Greenpeace
France Supports Greenpeace
Germany Supports Greenpeace
Greece No Response
India No Response
Ireland No Response
Israel Supporting Greenpeace
Italy No Response
Japan No Response
Lebanon No Response
Luxembourg No Response
Malaysia No Response
Malta Supporting Greenpeace
Mexico No Response
Netherlands Supports Greenpeace, giving the organisation a year to demonstrate compliance with safety regulations
New Zealand No Response
Norway Supporting Gteenpeace, under same conditions as Denmark
Panama No Response
Peru No Response
Philippines No Response
Russian Federation No Response
Spain Spain will support Greenpeace maintaining its consultative status... at the same time, Spain will demand that Greenpeace, or any other organisation with consultative status in IMO, respect the laws of marine security.
Sweden No Response
Switzerland No Response
Thailand No Response
Turkey Supporting Greenpeace
United Kingdom No Response
United States of America The US indicated that they will support Greenpeace, but indicated the organisation must adequately address the issue of how to differentiate their non-violent activities from terrorist acts
Send a message to the IMO: Don't Silence Greenpeace

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