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Danish navy moves against Greenpeace, as Arctic tussle moves to courts

By Martin Leggett - 03 Jun 2011 13:28:0 GMT
Danish navy moves against Greenpeace, as Arctic tussle moves to courts

The efforts of Greenpeace to halt the drilling for oil, off of the Arctic coast of Greenland, suffered a double setback yesterday, when its protesters were evicted from the Cairn Energy drilling platform - and then the oil company slapped a lawsuit on Greenpeace, through the Dutch authorities. The company is claiming damages from the suspension of its oil exploration activities. But Greenpeace remained undeterred, issuing statements condemning the 'legal hammer' being wielded by Cairn, and vowing to continue its campaign of disruption.

Greenpeace activists managed to scale Cairn's drilling ship, Leiv Eiriksson, last Sunday, strapping a 'survival pod' 75 feet above the Artcic swell - and just beneath the drilling platform. That halted any attempts to start drilling for oil, for 4 days. But early on Thursday morning, Danish navy climbers successfully winched themselves to the pod - Denmark remains in charge of Greenland's security - and arrested the pair of protesters, one from the UK and one from the US.

The Arctic confrontation was sparked by the granting of exploration licenses, by Greenland, for its eastern coastal waters. Many environmentalists concerned about the dangers of opening up a warming Arctic to oil exploration, which would let loose yet more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. And any accident in the hostile, but pristine, Arctic waters could be disastrous for its spectacular wildlife.

Unlike the Deepwater spill by BP last year, the Arctic is far removed from the facilities which could help support any clear-up of a spill. And the Arctic is a much more unforgiving environment than the waters of the Gulf of Mexico bordering the southern US. That is what worries Ben Ayliffe from Greenpeace.

He said 'We stopped this rig from drilling for four days, which was four days in which a Deepwater Horizon-style blow-out couldn't happen is this beautiful and fragile environment. Our climbers are in jail now, but this won't stop us opposing the madness of drilling for oil that we can't afford to burn.'

A legal front has now also opened up in this affair, with Cairn claiming damages of 2 million Euros from Greenpeace, for every day its operations are affected. The legal claim -  filed in Dutch courts because Greenpeace's ship, the Esperanza, is registered in Holland - says that 'all delay of the platforms during its journey to the respective drilling locations and each hindrance during the drilling activities will lead to delay of the operations. Plaintiffs estimate the damage resulting from delay to those drilling activities at least USD 4 million per day.' The suit will be heard on Monday.

Greenpeace remains defiant, keeping its ship close to the 500m exclusion zone announced by the Danish navy. The organization vowed to continue the struggle to prevent the 'big oil' from making a mess of the Arctic. Ben Ayliffe, speaking from the Esperanza, said 'Cairn is trying to use a legal hammer to shut down our campaign to kick the oil companies out of the Arctic, but we'll challenge Cairn and its lawyers every step of way.'

Top Image Credit: © Steve Morgan / Greenpeace