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

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 protests at Shell infrastructure at sea or in port anywhere in the world, or the company will make claims that could reach $8.6m (£7m) if contracting companies also pursue damages.

The oil company has mounted one of the biggest legal threats against Greenpeace in the environmental group’s 50-year history after the group’s campaigners occupied a floating oil platform in January to protest against the damage to the climate caused by Shell.

Four Greenpeace protesters boarded the platform just north of the Canary Islands, while it was being transported to the Shetland Islands, with signs demanding that the fossil fuel company “stop drilling – start paying”.

The legal threat is the latest blow traded between the oil conglomerate and climate protesters, after a failed attempt by environmental lawyers at ClientEarth to sue 11 of Shell’s directors at the high court in London to hold them personally responsible for the company’s “fundamentally flawed” climate strategy.

Shell has also been ordered by a Dutch court to cut emissions from its oil and gas by 45% by 2030 in an unprecedented ruling after Friends of the Earth took the company to court alongside more than 17,000 co-plaintiffs.

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.”

Shell has rejected Greenpeace’s characterisation of the dispute as a crackdown on all forms of protest, saying that its lawsuit related only to seaborne infrastructure because the safety of the protesters “was paramount”.

“Our intent has been misrepresented,” a Shell spokesperson said. “This is simply about preventing activities at sea or in port which could endanger people’s lives – as happened earlier this year – nothing more.

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

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

“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, a 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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