AS THE occupation of the drill ship Stena Carron’s enormous anchor chain by Greenpeace protesters off Shetland entered its third day, the environmental pressure group admitted they had a long way to go to win the hearts and minds of local people.
In light of widespread local criticism, the eco warriors said on Thursday that they had discussed how to get their message across to islanders.
Meawhile the islands’ police force have advised the protesters to remove themselves from the vessel for their own safety.
The protest against deepwater drilling for oil and gas has sparked a flurry of negative comments on social networking sites such as Shetlink and the Facebook site of Shetland News.
The protesters’ actions have triggered comments ranging from “juvenile” and “naïve” to “just pull the anchor”.
Oil company Chevron, who are leasing the huge drill ship designed top work in deep water, has made no further comment after describing the protest as “reckless”. Meanwhile Shetland Islands Council and Lerwick Port Authority have refrained from commenting publicly.
Speaking from the organisation’s support vessel Esperanza, Greenpeace spokesman Ben Stewart said he was aware that local opinion on the issue was “split”, but said their main concern was climate change and “the possible impact on local communities of an oil spill”.
He said he recognised that the group was not riding on a wave of popular support, unlike their successful 1995 campaign to stop Shell from dumping the Brent Spar oil storage buoy at sea.
“Our job is to try to persuade people. We are here because we are worried about the effects of an oil spill on the environment around here. Public consciousness of environmental issues has increased since the Brent Spar campaign. We are getting a lot of support from people around the world,” Mr Stewart said.
The campaigners on the board the Esperanza have talked of staging public meetings in Lerwick, but said their foremost concern was the protest at the Stena Carron and the safety of its activists.
“We are acting in the interest of everybody who relies on a clean and pollution free ocean.
“At the moment we are focussing on support in rough seas and making sure that safety comes first at the Stena Carron.
“If the weather calms down and if our occupation continues then we will be looking at other options of how we can get our message out,” Mr Stewart said.
A spokesman doe Northern Constabulary, who are monitoring the protest closely but not considering immediate action to remove the protesters, said they had advised those hanging from the anchor chain “to remove themselves from the vessel as they are endangering themselves and others, particularly in the worsening weather conditions”.
The protesters have set up a special pod in which they can survive for at least a month, attaching a solar panel on Thursday that should provide enough power to meet their needs.
Meanwhile former Lothian and Borders Police chief constable George Esson, who led the Shell operation to remove Greenpeace from the Brent Spar 15 years ago, said there were no easy options for the operators of the ship.
“Occupations like this are difficult enough to deal with in a building on land, but the sea makes it even more difficult to deal with,” Mr Esson told the Press and Journal newspaper.
“Critics looking on from the sidelines have to understand how difficult this is. There is no simple remedy – if there was, it would have been used.”