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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Jillian Ambrose

Shell sues Greenpeace for $2.1m in damages over fossil fuel protest in North Sea

Greenpeace activist Yeb Saño seen in a motor dinghy waving a flag saying 'stop drilling - start paying'
Greenpeace activist Yeb Saño seen during attempts to board a Shell oil platform being shipped through the Atlantic Ocean near Gran Canaria, Spain, in January 2023. Photograph: Getty Images

Shell is suing Greenpeace for $2.1m in damages in one of the biggest ever legal threats against the group after its campaigners occupied a moving oil platform earlier this year.

The lawsuit calls for an indefinite block on all protest at Shell infrastructure at sea or in port anywhere in the world, or face claims that could rise to a total of $8.6m if Shell contracting companies also pursue damages.

The oil company has mounted one of the biggest legal threats against Greenpeace in its 50-year history after its campaigners occupied a moving oil platform to protest against the climate change loss and damage caused by Shell.

Four Greenpeace protesters boarded the floating oil platform just north of the Canary Islands while en route to the Shetland Islands with signs demanding that the fossil fuel company “stop drilling – start paying”.

Greenpeace has accused Shell of using “aggressive legal tactics” in an attempt to “silence growing dissent over chief executive Wael Sawan’s moves to double down on fossil fuel investment”.

Yeb Saño, the executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia and one of the protesters who boarded Shell’s platform, said: “Shell is trying to silence my legitimate demands: that it must stop its senseless and greedy pursuit of fossil fuels and take accountability for the destruction it is wreaking upon the world.”

Saño added: “I will stand up in court and fight this; and if Shell refuses to stop drilling, I refuse to stop fighting for climate justice.”

The company has rejected the green group’s characterisation of the dispute, saying that the safety of the protesters “was paramount”.

“The right to protest is fundamental and we respect it absolutely. But it must be done safely and lawfully,” a Shell spokesperson said. “Shell and its contractors are entitled to recover the significant costs of responding to Greenpeace’s dangerous actions.”

The company said it incurred significant legal costs to secure two court injunctions which could prevent further boarding by protesters. It has also faced costs to mobilise an extra safety vessel and increase security at the port.

“The safety of the protesters – as well as the crew – was paramount. Rightly, we did not hesitate to put in place measures to protect all people involved,” the spokesperson said.

The company has previously described the oil platform protest as a safety concern. At the time, a Shell spokesperson said:“These actions are causing real safety concerns, with a number of people boarding a moving vessel in rough conditions. We respect the right of everyone to express their point of view. It’s essential they do that with their safety and that of others in mind.”

Areeba Hamid, co-executive director of Greenpeace UK, accused Shell of “trying to crush Greenpeace’s ability to campaign, and in doing so, seeking to silence legitimate demands for climate justice and payment for loss and damage”.

“We need this case to be thrown out and for Shell to be regulated by the government because it’s clear Sawan is hell-bent on profit, regardless of human cost,” she said.

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