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Greenpeace breaks the law, again

Ivo Vegter is a columnist and the author of Extreme Environment, a book on environmental exaggeration and how it harms emerging economies. He writes on this and many other matters, from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets.

Norwegian authorities arrested 35 Greenpeace personnel and seized their vessel, the Arctic Sunrise, after they “peacefully” disrupted operations at an oil rig in the Arctic. As repeat offenders, these radical activists deserve to face the full force of the law.

Greenpeace is of the opinion that its opinions count more than anyone else’s opinions, and it is willing to use force to make that clear. No matter what its opinions actually are, such self-centred disregard for others is immoral, and its actions are routinely and blatantly illegal.

Over the weekend, the Norwegian Coast Guard seized the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise and arrested 35 activists who had illegally encroached on a large oil rig to protest against oil drilling in the Arctic. The rig, Songa Enabler, was drilling at the Korpfjell well site on behalf of Statoil, Norway’s state-owned oil company. The well is located in the Barents Sea, the most northerly drilling block yet licensed by the Norwegian government.

Evidently, there is a difference of opinion between Greenpeace and the Norwegian government about the risk-benefit equation of deep-water oil drilling. Perhaps the Norwegians know that much of their welfare state is built on oil revenue, and that there is no chance any other industry will replace this revenue in the short or medium term. Perhaps they know that the oil industry is a major employer. Perhaps they know that plentiful inexpensive energy is a prerequisite for sustaining a healthy economy. Or that poor people in particular are hard-hit by high fuel prices.

Greenpeace, of course, ignores such realities, and substitutes its own. Oil is evil, oil spills are disastrous, oil money is tainted, and oil should be left in the ground. To impose its opinions on the rest of us, it is willing to break the law, endanger both oil crews and the environment, and use force to disrupt the perfectly legal business of others.

This isn’t the first time Greenpeace has broken the law in pursuance of campaign goals. In 2014, they used a truck to barge through security barriers at a nuclear power plant in France in order to hang banners protesting against nuclear power. This is outright violence, destroying property for which the taxpayer foots the bill. Fifty-seven activists were arrested.

This isn’t the first time the Arctic Sunrise has been seized, either. In 2013, 30 Greenpeace members were arrested by Russian authorities after they climbed the Gazprom oil platform Prirazlomnaya. The incident happened in the Pechora Sea north-east of Murmansk, Russia. The Arctic Sunrise was towed to a Russian port and the activists charged with piracy. The charges were later reduced to hooliganism, but the activists were freed after two months in detention due to a general amnesty passed by the Russian legislature prior to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Another Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior, was boarded by Dutch anti-terror police in 2014. Fourty-four activists were arrested, including members of the Russia 30, for physically trying to block a Russian oil tanker from entering Rotterdam harbour. Surprisingly, they were released without charge, despite disruptive behaviour that threatened safety and operations in a narrow waterway leading to Europe’s busiest port.

In 2012, six Greenpeace activists were arrested by a Swedish SWAT team for trespassing, after they boarded the Nordica, an icebreaker contracted to Shell. A week earlier, the group claimed a similar action delayed the ship’s departure from Finland by 10 hours.

Eighteen Greenpeace activists were arrested by Danish authorities in 2011 after they boarded the Leiv Eiriksson oil rig off Greenland, where Cairn Energy were conducting legal drilling operations. Not two weeks later, they were at it again. Two more activists were arrested, including the global head of Greenpeace, a South African named Kumi Naidoo. Cairn sued for enough damages to sink Greenpeace, both for the cost they incurred due to unplanned shutdowns, and because it claimed its staff and rig were endangered by the protesters. In the end, the company settled for an injunction that would fine Greenpeace 50,000 a day should they continue to disrupt operations at the oil platform.

The coal ship Orient Venus had to be escorted to its dock in Hadera by Israeli naval police in 2010, after Greenpeace protesters boarded the vessel and refused instructions to leave. Three were arrested. A few days later, activists used a boat to gain access to a coal-fired power plant in Hadera, scaled a crane and unfurled a banner. Eight more were arrested. The previous year, 10 activists were arrested for blockading the entrance to the Ashkelon coal-fired power plant. A year before that, 14 Greenpeace members were arrested after docking the Rainbow Warrior in a restricted area at the port of Haifa, and vandalising another ship at the port.

In 2007, three Greenpeace activists were arrested after they boarded and stopped the Algomarine, an ore carrier ferrying coal across Lake Erie to a power plant in Ontario, Canada.

The list goes on. This is routine behaviour for Greenpeace. The group claims its actions are peaceful, but illegally trespassing onto maritime vessels, endangering ships, rigs and crew, vandalism, and forcing the delay or shutdown of operations, can hardly be described as peaceful behaviour. It is criminal activity that is hard to distinguish from high-seas piracy. It is a coercive use of illegitimate force.

Merely causing a company to incur unnecessary costs is indefensible, but Greenpeace raids also pose a threat to the safety of sailors and oil rig workers, especially when they are operating in harsh conditions such as the Arctic. Disruptive action could, in extremis, cause the very oil spills the organisation claims to fear. One wonders, if this were to happen, whether Greenpeace would take responsibility, or whether it would simply say “we told you so” and ramp up calls for donations to fund their campaigns to shut down coal, oil or nuclear operations.

In every case, Greenpeace claims to have the support of thousands of people. Sometimes they deliver petitions. The problem, however, is not only that such petitions cannot be verified, but that they cannot register dissent from the Greenpeace view. If a given number of people support protest action against oil rigs, that’s well and fine, but how many do not support such action, or actively oppose it? And how many will change their minds when the illegality of these actions, the risk to crews and the environment, or the implications for fuel prices is pointed out to them?

Greenpeace has every right to campaign, to publish research and marketing of dubious honesty, to protest actions it believes are harmful to the environment, and to go to court to enforce environmental laws. These are rights we all share, no matter what our cause. But Greenpeace exceeds the bounds of civil, legal behaviour.

It has established a pattern of criminal behaviour that permeates the organisation, all the way to the top. If this was any other organisation (such as, say, Enron), senior executives would be in prison, and the organisation would be wound up.

The group would like to believe it is breaking the law for some noble purpose. But even if that is true, that does not justify breaking the law and forcibly disrupting or endangering the legal operations of those who disagree. Noble ends do not justify illegal means. Yet every time the group’s members get arrested, all they get is free publicity, instead of meaningful consequences for their actions.

Greenpeace is a repeat offender, and it is high time that its activists get treated accordingly. Let’s hope the Nordic government presses actual charges of vandalism, trespass and piracy, and the Nordic courts pass sentences that befit habitual criminals. Someone has to. DM


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