Shell-chartered vessel boarded by Greenpeace activists

Greenpeace activists have boarded a Shell-chartered vessel en route to the UK’s North Sea in a protest against the energy company’s continued production of fossil fuels.

The environmental campaign group said four activists had climbed on to the ship transporting Shell’s floating production storage and offloading unit, or FPSO, on Tuesday morning just north of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, as it was in transit to the Penguins oil and gasfield, north-east of the Shetland Islands.

Video footage showed the protesters approaching the giant FPSO in small boats and rough seas before hauling themselves on to the deck using ropes and unfurling a banner with the message, “Stop Drilling. Start Paying.”

The UK-listed energy major is on course to report record annual earnings of about $40bn when it releases its 2022 financial results on Thursday. Like its rivals, Shell has benefited from soaring oil and gas prices resulting from the energy crisis unleashed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, stoking new calls for higher taxes.

Greenpeace said it was the first time it had staged direct action against an oil and gas company’s North Sea operations since its activists boarded a BP oil rig leaving a Scottish port in 2019.

Yeb Saño, a Greenpeace activist involved in the protest, said Shell needed to “take accountability for decades of profiting from climate injustice” and pay for “the loss and damage” it had caused.

Oil producers have faced protests from groups such as Greenpeace for decades but have come under increased pressure in recent years amid broader calls to slow or cease the production of fossil fuels to help cut global emissions. Shell in 2019 pulled out of the development of the Cambo oilfield, west of Shetland, which had become the focus of environmental activism.

Shell, like most major energy companies, has committed to reduce emissions from its operations but argues that it still needs to invest in oil and gas production to meet global demand while the world transitions to cleaner forms of energy.

The Penguins field, 241km north-east of the Shetland Islands, has been producing oil since 2002. In 2018 Shell approved plans to extend the life of the project by drilling eight new wells to be connected to a new FPSO, after the infrastructure previously linked to the field was decommissioned. Penguins is expected to produce about 45,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day once the redevelopment is complete.

“Projects like Penguins are vital to that supply and help reduce the UK’s reliance on higher carbon and costlier energy imports,” Shell said.

The actions of the protesters were “causing real safety concerns, with a number of people boarding a moving vessel in rough conditions”, Shell added. “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.”

Shell declined to comment on whether the protest would slow or stop the voyage and directed questions to Boskalis, a Dutch maritime services company contracted to transport the FPSO. Boskalis did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

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