Shell’s trying to silence your voice on Arctic drilling…

by Ben Ayliffe

April 10, 2015

Greenpeace activists have rigged a 'Save the Arctic' banner showing an Arctic Owl and containing the signatures of millions of supporters on a leg of the Polar Pioneer oil rig in the Pacific Ocean. Six Greenpeace climbers have intercepted an Arctic-bound Shell oil rig in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 750 miles north-west of Hawaii and have scaled the 38,000 tonne platform. The six, from the USA, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden and Austria, sped towards the Polar Pioneer, which Shell intends to use to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea, in inflatable boats launched from the Greenpeace ship Esperanza.

© Vincenzo Floramo / Greenpeace

“If somebody not from your country commits a crime against somebody not from your country in another country, should the courts in your country have any jurisdiction over the issue?”

With remarkable prescience, this question was posed by Shell’s own Legal Director back in 2012. Remarkable because it’s pretty much what that very same company is now attempting to try and stifle the voices of millions of people who’ve spoken out and taken action against Arctic drilling.

Shell is asking the courts in Alaska to issue a draconian injunction against Greenpeace USA to force #TheCrossing to stop by getting our activists off the rig. The company is so worried about the global media storm that erupted when Zoe, Miriam, Andreas et al scaled the Polar Pioneer rig to expose Shell’s plans to drill for oil in the Arctic this summer, it’s taken the time-honoured step of getting a legal sledge hammer to smash dissent.

And so the question of whether an oil giant can go to a court in the USA to try and stop the actions of one Dutch-flagged ship against another one in international waters thousands of miles from the US coast has taken centre stage in the protest.

To put it bluntly, it looks like Shell’s team of high-octane legal eagles might just have unleashed a jurisdictional clusterf**k of almighty proportions by trying to sue the wrong Greenpeace office in the wrong country. Its plea to the courts, which contains some frankly weird demands like protection from “undercover ninjas” (note to Shell: this is an Arctic protest, not an episode from Monkey) is basically an attempt to abuse legal process for its own ends.

The injunction Shell wants goes way beyond the scope of the US legal system, shows the company’s preternatural fear and loathing of protest and free speech and contains a degree of brass neck I’ve rarely encountered when it comes the safety of operations at sea, especially given Shell’s often overbearing affinity for crashed rigs and Arctic sub-contractors with criminal form as long as your arm.

It also totally ignores Article 92 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. This says that a ship in the high seas falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of its flag State. As both the Esperanza and the Blue Marlin (the giant heavy lift vessel carrying the Polar Pioneer) are in the high seas and flagged to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, only a Dutch court can potentially order the protest to end.

Strangely enough, in answering his own question, Shell’s lawyer concluded that if we’re not careful we could end up passing rules that aren’t a force for good. Let’s hope the courts in Alaska follow his logic and treat Shell’s attempt to buy silence with the contempt it deserves.

Right now, though, the six climbers on Shell’s Arctic-bound drilling rig aren’t going anywhere. But they need your support. The Arctic needs your support. Please stand with us.

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