A Dutch court ruled Thursday that Greenpeace protesters staging a sit-in must leave a deep-sea mining exploration ship in the Pacific Ocean between Mexico and Hawaii but that they can continue to demonstrate around the vessel.
Canada-based The Metals Company, whose subsidiary Nauru Ocean Resources Inc. runs the ship, Coco, accused the protesters of endangering the crew and breaking international law.
The case was heard in Amsterdam, where the Greenpeace protest ship Arctic Sunrise, which is involved in the protest, is registered.
Greenpeace began the protest a week ago by paddling kayaks beneath the Coco for up to 10 hours at a time to prevent it deploying equipment in the water. Two activists also boarded the ship and pledged to stay camped on the main crane used to deploy and retrieve equipment from the water until The Metals Company agrees to leave.
The protest comes as international demand for critical minerals found on the seafloor grows, but an increasing number of countries say more research is needed into the environmental impacts of deep-sea mining.
A subsidiary of The Metals Company has been conducting exploratory research in the Clarion Clipperton Zone of the Pacific since 2011. They say data from their latest expedition, researching how the seabed recovered from exploration last year, will be used in an application to begin mining in 2025.
In a summary ruling, Amsterdam District Court said that Greenpeace can “continue its actions around a ship in the South Pacific, but must instruct its activists to immediately leave” the vessel.
The court said that while Greenpeace has a profound interest in protesting against the research “its interest in doing so on the ship itself weighs less heavily than the interest of the owner of the ship, who is responsible for the safety of those on board.”
The court said Greenpeace would have to pay 50,000 euros ($54,560) per day up to a maximum of 500,000 euros if the activists remain on the ship.
A Greenpeace statement called the ruling “a massive setback for the deep-sea mining industry.” It also lashed out at The Metals Company, claiming it “has never been interested in scrutiny and they can’t stand that Greenpeace is watching and opposing them at every turn.”
“We are determined to keep bringing this dangerous industry to public attention and will continue to disrupt this dangerous industry”, said Mads Christensen, head of Greenpeace International.
The Metals Company CEO & Chairman Gerard Barron welcomed the ruling.
“We respect Greenpeace’s right to peaceful protest and expression of opinions,” Barron said. “However, our foremost responsibility is to ensure the safe continuance of our legally-mandated operations, and the safety of all those involved.”
He said the company would “continue to gather the important scientific data” for members of the International Seabed Authority.
Environmental groups reject deep-sea mining and fear the international authority will soon authorize the world’s first license to harvest minerals from the ocean floor.
Mining companies say that harvesting minerals from the deep sea instead of land is cheaper and has less of an environmental impact. But scientists and environmental groups argue that less than 1% of the world’s deep seas have been explored, and they warn that deep-sea mining could unleash noise, light and suffocating dust storms.