Going swimming to stop the drilling

Posted by jamess — 27 September 2010 at 10:11am - Comments

Wow. It’s still sinking in. It's not every day you get to jump in front of a moving ship and actually make it stop.

Last night – about fifteen minutes before I was turning in – I heard that Chevron's drill ship, the one that we'd been hanging off for over 100 hours, had started up its engines and was heading towards its deepwater drill site north of Shetland.

Chevron had earlier hit us with a legal injunction, which said that if we got on the ship – with the pod or anything else – we'd face massive daily fines that we couldn't justify using our supporters' money to pay.

But we still had to do something. So last night as news came in that the Stena Carron was moving, Ben – our lead campaigner on board – tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was still up for going tomorrow.

With a slight gulp I said I was, knowing that I was volunteering to jump in front of a moving drill ship in the hope that we could steer it off course, delay it, or if at all possible, stop it.

I'd volunteered to be a ‘swimmer' because I'd just spent the best part of a week watching my friends exercise their impressive climbing skills by scampering up and occupying Chevron's anchor chain. I'm no climber – but swim I can do. So I thought great, finally, an action I can get involved in. Besides, as the designated ‘webby' on board, it's nice to do something that doesn't involve a glowing screen.

So far so good, but by this stage I hadn't really digested what the action entailed. As people started to talk more about the “bow wave” (the crest of water pushed out by the ship as it speeds along) and how best to push off the moving ship's hull, I started to realise what I'd got myself into.

Sleep well I did not, but the only consolation was seeing that Ben was in a pretty similar state. The nervous questions about how best to avoid the propellers and thrusters were not all mine.

So, together with deckhand Jono and chief engineer Manus, I was up early this morning to get ready for our ‘swim'. First step is the kit. A dip in the North Sea requires a bit more than Speedos and we each squeezed into our full-on immersion suits, wearing plenty of thermals underneath. If they're designed to keep you warm in near-freezing water, you can imagine they're not very comfortable when you're on deck. We tried (and failied) to keep cool using the breeze at the stern of the Esperanza, so Manus came up with a better idea. Shortly after we were chilling in the walk-in freezer, cooling off with the frozen peas.

By now we were waiting for the right time to go. The Esperanza was gaining on the Stena Carron and we knew that when we were alongside, it'd be the best time to launch the speedboats and drop us in front of Chevron's ship.

At the right moment, we zipped out towards the path their ship was heading on and got ourselves ready. “Go! Go! Go!” and we were in, holding onto the buoys and small banners. The Stena Carron – going over ten knots – changed direction - phew! - but that just meant we were picked up again and dropped in on its new course.

This time it was going to hit us, and as the rumble got louder, so did the blue bow of the ship, until the huge anchors that our friends were hanging off yesterday were directly above us. And with it, the bow wave. As Jono, Manus and Ben got pushed down the left side of the ship, I got pinged off to the right, and within a couple of seconds there was nobody around.

It was surreal, after the churning waters of the oncoming ship, now everything was still. The water was calm, there were seagulls skimming the water and I was bobbing peacefully past a couple of hundred metres of drill ship. Suddenly I realized the roar of the engines had died down, and the ship had stopped.

Then I was picked up by our safety boat and brought around to the front of the ship with the other swimmers. The next four hours slipped by, as the sky cleared and we floated in front of the stationary bow, taking it all in. Four of us, with nothing but life vests and dry suits, stopped this massive oil drilling machine. I don't mean that in any way to sound boastful - the skill level involved on my part required only efficient bobbing, - but it's proof of what you can achieve with peaceful direct action protest.

It's dark outside now and now there are others in the water keeping the drill ship from moving – nine hours after we stopped it. Just heard that a minke whale appeared not far from the swimmers, curving out of the water and then flipping its tail 'hello'. I'd like to think it showed up to encourage us to keep going.

Time to go get some sleep, I'm due back in the water in the morning.

-- James on the Esperanza


I can't believe how brave you all are, without activists like you the big oil companies could get away with anything. If anything, when the world finally has gone completely 'beyond oil', you should earn a medal! Keep strong, keep going! Meanwhile I can't wait to read the next post.

I would also like to comment on wikkid's post: Greenpeace believes in non-violent direct action, bearing witness, and exposing what people are doing to our planet. Some believe so strongly that they are willing to put their lives at risks, to save millions. If another oil spill happens, it would be disastrous to say the least, but its not only about that risk, its the fact that companies should be looking into sustainable ways of sourcing energy, and investing in renewables. Because if we get to the point of runaway climate change, the social, economical and environmental destruction is unimaginable... The way Greenpeace was founded was by some very brave men going out in a boat to stop nuclear testing at sea. Some might say it only delayed the testing (as you are saying this action is), but the point is, it illustrates to the world what is going on, and that we must protest. I see it as a symbolic action, and I truly believe it is a very noble thing that people are willing to risk their lives to help save ours (in the long run). I don't know the details of the mission, and would be interested to hear a crews view on the matter, as you might have heard quite a one-sided point of view?

Follow Greenpeace UK