Global Head of Greenpeace Kumi Naidoo Faces Jail For Scaling Arctic Oil Rig

Press release - 17 June, 2011
Greenland, June 17 2011 – The International Executive Director of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo, has entered an exclusion zone to scale a controversial Arctic oil rig 120km off the coast of Greenland. He is now demanding that the rig’s master orders an immediate halt to drilling, and is requesting a copy of the rig’s missing oil spill response plan. The document has been at the centre of a month-long campaign of direct action in the Arctic.

At 6.54. am this morning an inflatable speedboat carrying Naidoo was launched from the Greenpeace ship Esperanza. It evaded a Danish navy warship that has been circling the rig for several weeks then he climbed a 30 metre ladder up the outside of one of the platform’s giant legs.

His action comes a week after the operators of the oil platform, Cairn Energy, obtained an injunction against Greenpeace from a Dutch court, imposing fines of 50,000 Euros a day for any breach of the exclusion zone. Cairn sought the injunction after 20 Greenpeace activists had been arrested on the rig for stopping the rig operating. As the head of the global organisation Naidoo himself volunteered to scale the rig and personally deliver a new appeal to the rig for an end to dangerous Arctic oil drilling. As he scaled the platform he carried the signatures of 50,000 supporters from all over the world who have demanded that Cairn explain exactly how it would deal with a BP style deep water blow-out in the Arctic.

Before leaving the Esperanza for the race to the Leiv Eiriksson he said:

“For me this is one of the defining environmental battles of our age, it’s a fight for sanity against the madness of a mindset that sees the melting of the Arctic sea ice as a good thing. As the ice retreats the oil companies want to send the rigs in and drill for the fossil fuels that got us into this mess in the first place. We have to stop them. It goes right to the heart of the kind of world we want and the one which we want to pass onto our children.”

He continued:

“The Arctic oil rush is such a serious threat to the climate and to this beautiful fragile environment that I felt Greenpeace had no choice but to return, so I volunteered to do it myself. Cairn has something to hide, it won’t publish its plan to clean up an oil spill here in the Arctic, and that’s because it can’t be done. I’m going onto that rig to give them the names of fifty thousand people who’ve emailed them to demand they publish their plan, and I won’t leave until I have it in my hands.”

“People may wonder why I as an African care about what's happening in the Arctic, but scientists say that the unprecedented warming up here could have grave knock-on consequences for vulnerable people across the world. That's because a warming Arctic could dramatically change weather patterns many thousands of miles away. At some point we have to draw a line and say no more, and I say we draw that line here and now in the Arctic ice."

Greenpeace has made repeated requests for Cairn’s oil spill plan, including making a visit last month to the company’s headquarters to ask that it be made public. Cairn claims the Greenland authorities won’t allow it to publish the spill plan, but Greenpeace has legal advice making it clear that Cairn could easily publish the plan if it wanted to. Publication of such a plan is normal practice in the industry and the Arctic Council’s Offshore Oil and Gas Guidelines clearly state that oil spill response mechanisms should be in place before drilling begins and that operators should allow for public review and comment on the oil spill response plan.

Before granting the injunction last week, the Dutch judge made a point of highlighting the dangerous nature of Arctic drilling and how unusual it was that Cairn had not released its spill plan. He said:

“It must be conceded to Greenpeace International that the oil disaster which occurred in the Gulf of Mexico showed the great risk of drilling at great depths. Capricorn [a fully owned subsidiary of Cairn Energy] has not disputed that if a similar scenario were to develop at the drilling locations at issue, it would be very difficult due to the climactic circumstances in the area, which permit navigation for only a few months a year due to the formation of ice, to stem an oil spill. A leak of this kind could indeed have major consequences for humans, wildlife and the environment in a large region… The injunction judge has taken note of the fact that Capricorn is not willing to publish its oil spill plan.”

Kumi, 45, was a youth leader in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, where he was arrested several times and charged with violating provisions against mass mobilisation, civil disobedience and for violating the state of emergency. He lived underground before being forced to flee South Africa and live in exile in the UK. ENDS

For more contact Greenpeace International 24-hour press desk on +31 20 718 2470 Contact the Greenpeace ship Esperanza on +47 5140 7986 / 7 / 8 Greenpeace Picture Desk, , +3 629001152 Greenpeace International Video Desk, +1 267 239 7288


Experts believe an Arctic oil spill would be extremely hard to deal with because of the freezing temperatures and remote location. Private state documents revealed last month show that the UK government believes an Arctic spill would be ‘near impossible’ to clean up:

The Leiv Eiriksson is one of just two drilling vessels operating off the coast of Greenland. The world's oil giants are watching Cairn’s rig with great interest. If it strikes oil this summer Exxon, Chevron and the other big oil companies (which have already bought up Greenland licenses) will begin drilling in the area and the Arctic oil rush will be on.

Arctic ice cap record low for time of year:

Two weeks ago Greenpeace stopped operations on the rig for four days by hanging a survival pod occupied by two activists from its underside. On June 4 Greenpeace stopped the rig drilling for 10 hours after 18 activists scaled the rig to demand a copy of Cairn’s Oil Spill Response Plan.

Even without an accident Cairn admits its drilling operation will result in at least 9,000 tonnes of chemicals being discharged directly into the waters of the Davis Strait – including 180 tonnes of red-listed chemicals (more than all annual oil drilling operations in Norway and Denmark combined). The company admits that it would take decades before significant profits from oil exploration flow to Greenland, while Cairn’s operations pose a grave threat to Greenland’s fisheries, which represent 88% of the island’s export economy.

The area where Cairn intends to drill is known as ‘Iceberg Alley'. The company intends to tow icebergs out of the rig's path or use water cannons to divert them to avoid a collision as the rig drills for oil. If the icebergs are too large the company has admitted it will need to move the rig itself. Last year a 260km2 ice island broke off the Petermann glacier north of Iceberg Alley. The region is famous for its narwhal population.