So-called environmentalists protesting against a Shell oil rig parked in Seattle have wreaked thousands of dollars worth of damage on a protected marine park. Shell has stepped in to foot the bill for the cleanup operation.
In May of this year, hundreds of protesters took to the water in kayaks and boats to protest against the Polar Pioneer, one of two 300-foot tall oil rigs stationed in Seattle’s port before commencing oil exploration operations in the Arctic sea this summer.
The event, dubbed the ‘Paddle in Seattle’ and promoted by organisers as “a beautiful day full of inspiration and fun” centred around a 4,000 square foot barge, or ‘People’s Platform’, which, according to the Guardian, played host to speakers, a band, and a giant screen showing footage of people voicing their opposition to Shell’s plans.
Earlier this month, against a background of Greenpeace kayakers protesting the rig’s deployment, a team of divers set to work on the cleanup operation.
According to Koos du Preez, a volunteer with non-profit marine conservation group Global Underwater Explorers (GUE), the clean-up operation, which involved the removal of massive cement blocks weighing between 2,000 and 4,000 pounds each, cost in the region of €10,000.
“The Solar Pioneer barge dropped a couple of big mooring blocks right in the middle of a dive park,” du Preez told MyNorthwest.com. “They had mooring cables attached to the barge; there were big tidal swings and with those tidal swings they wrapped around structures frequently visited by divers and also house marine life.”
It appears that, despite demands from the Department of Natural Resources insisting on the mess being cleared up, the events organisers sHellNo refused to take responsibility. Du Preez rather generously suggested “The operation was very costly and the activist group, I suspect, did not have that much resources to clean up the dive park.”
He says his organisation “worked with them and said we would take care of the operation to make sure it was done professionally.”
But the GUE, as a volunteer organisation, also faced a challenge when it came to financing the operation, until one of their team suggested asking Shell to help out.
“One of our members took a long shot and dropped an email directly to the CEO, Ben van Beurden, at Shell,” du Preez said. “We didn’t think much of it at the time, but low and behold, we get a call from Shell in Alaska. Our email somehow bounced around in the upper echelon of Shell. The next thing you know, someone calls us from Alaska and said,’We’d love to help out.'”
Not only did Shell offer to foot the bill, they also put the GUE in contact with Foss Maritime, the company which hosted the rig in Seattle – and they too offered to contribute to the costs. The barge’s owner, John Sellars, also stepped in to help.
Despite their generosity, Shell have still come under fire for merely being in the area in the first place. “Obviously, if Shell wasn’t in the area, the activists wouldn’t be in the area, and none of this would have happened,” du Preez said. Despite his insistence that he doesn’t blame Shell, he added: “I, and our group, consider this whole incident as collateral damage, as the net result of all this activity.”
This is not the first time that environmental campaigners have wrought destruction on protected habitats. The Seattle protest was supported by Greenpeace, who also have form in this area.
Last December the multi-million pound organisation pulled off a PR disaster when it unfurled a banner proclaiming “the future is renewable” right on top of the sacred Nacza Lines, made by the native inhabitants of Peru nearly 2000 years ago. The lines are now protected as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Footprints left by the activists are expected to remain intact for hundreds, if not thousands of years. With no sense of irony, one of the activists, Mauro Fernandez recorded a video at the site in which he said: “With our message from the Nazca lines, we expect politicians to understand the legacy we need to leave for future generations.”