Miriam Nina Friedrich and fellow activists aboard the Polar Pioneer. Photo courtesy Greenpeace.
MIRIAM NINA FRIEDRICH is one of the six Greenpeace volunteers who boarded Shell’s oil rig, the Polar Pioneer, on April 1, 2015, to protest Arctic drilling. The goal of the action – referred to as The Crossing – was not only to expose Shell’s plans but also to gain global support. Inderjit Deogun interviewed Friedrich by email in May.
Inderjit Deogun: Before we jump in, can you tell our readers a bit about your work with Greenpeace?
Miriam: I don't even remember hearing of Greenpeace for the first time. My parents always love telling the stories of how I started collecting signatures for various Greenpeace campaigns when I was in primary school. When I finally got to Vienna for my studies four years ago, there was no question about getting more involved with the office there. So now I am coordinating the local volunteer group and getting involved in many different projects as a volunteer myself.
How did the idea for The Crossing come about?
Since Shell announced in January that it was planning to resume the Arctic drilling programme for 2015, there was no other way [to respond] than stepping up and showing Shell that there are more than 6.7 million people who oppose Arctic drilling!
Why was it important for you to be part of this action?
The Arctic is a pristine, sensitive ecosystem and helps regulate climate on the whole planet. And still Shell is pushing to go there to drill for oil, not even considering that, according to an independent study, there’s more than a 75 percent chance of a major oil spill! That's not just blind – that's pure insanity! For me, it was especially important to be part of this project because the Arctic drilling programme is no more than a big PR-campaign for Shell. The oil reserves up there aren't really worth mentioning, Shell simply wants to satisfy its stakeholders by being a “great arctic explorer.” And risking the future of so many people, animals, risking my future for that reason is pure madness!
What did you have to do to prepare for this action?
Security is our highest priority and we take it really seriously (unlike Shell, as we could see with the Kulluk incident or all the failures with the Noble Discoverer). Therefore, we went through possible scenarios and we had walkie talkies with us so we could always communicate with our Greenpeace vessel the Esperanza. We had to think about how we were going to set up camp, what were our necessities and, probably the strangest one, how to deal with our human waste. For that, we had a barrel with bags in it prepared and for pee we had a canister.
What was going through your mind as you inched closer to Shell's oil rig, the Polar Pioneer?
Damn ... it's getting bigger and bigger!
Once you boarded the Blue Marlin, Shell’s vessel transporting the Polar Pioneer, what did you encounter?
We didn't actually board the Blue Marlin; we climbed up to one of the anchors of the Polar Pioneer without even touching the Blue Marlin. There was a crew standing alongside the railing of the heavy lifter, but they never came up to the drill rig. They were documenting our every step and – quite surprisingly – were giving us a thumbs up. As soon as we were up on the anchor some of us were looking for an accessible way [to get] further up and some of us were dealing with our bags. In between, we took some time to take some [photos] so we could share our story with the world. I still remember the feeling of first looking [back] toward the Esperanza … she seemed so tiny. The water was calm and it was a breathtaking view!
Miriam Nina Friedrich in the Esperanza
How long were you prepared to stay on board?
We brought supplies for a few days and luckily communications with the Blue Marlin went well, so we could get more supplies from the Esperanza. Basically we were ready to stay as long as it would take to get our message out in the world.
What was it like to unfurl "The People vs. Shell" sign?
It felt good. In the moment of holding that banner, I knew we made an important step. Still, the way ahead for us was long, but we already achieved a lot in that very moment.
What was the mood amongst the six once on board?
We were an international team from all over the world, which is amazing. It's really empowering to see that people from the other side of the planet have similar ideologies to mine. At the same time, there were of course some misunderstandings and different approaches to problems, especially when you're together for six days on a tiny catwalk not much bigger than six square meters. But we had the same goal; we had a mission and in the end we were a really great team. I miss every singe one of them!
What would you like people to know about Shell's activities in the Arctic?
I want people to see that Shell is absolutely incapable of ensuring security with their drilling fleet, even in conditions that are far less aggressive than in the unforgiving Arctic! Shell's history of Arctic exploration so far is a book full of failures. They had several vessels drifting around out of control (the best example is the Kulluk incident in 2012, which could have ended in a catastrophe), there were many safety and environmental violations which also led to Noble Drilling, one of Shell's biggest sub-contractors, pleading guilty to committing eight felony offences. Noble Drilling is owner of the drillship Noble Discoverer, which is supposed to head toward the Arctic now as well.
This list goes on. But, what is even more important: We can't afford to burn more fossil fuel than we already have extracted! We are facing climate change, Shell is contributing to global warming and now they want to profit from it; it's obscene. And we don't need fossil fuels; we have the technology for an energy revolution towards renewable energy. All we need now is our politicians to listen to us – to the people and not to the polluters. And as long as they don't listen, we have to get stronger, join our voices together to make them louder and change the path ourselves!
What would you say to those who see actions such as The Crossing as dangerous and even irresponsible?
I would like to ask them if they have ever looked at what Shell is doing and planning right now. Because drilling in the Arctic is irresponsible and incredibly dangerous. Shell is risking our future! We are safe and we were safe at any point during the whole operation. All six of us are very experienced climbers and know how to use the equipment and handle rough situations. And we made sure that we didn't put the crew of the Blue Marlin or ourselves at risk.
Have you had the chance to look back on the action? If so, how would you summarize the experience?
I didn't have much time, but of course I did look back. Four of us were lucky and could go to Seattle after we got back on land. It was incredible to be there! A gigantic climate and Shell No! movement is flourishing there now! I am very happy I could see that too and to meet all the great, inspiring people working so hard to keep Shell out of their port and from going into the Arctic! The battle goes on; it's the people vs. Shell and so far the people are getting stronger and Shell's reputation is slowly starting to crumble.
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