All good pirate sea tales have a hidden treasure map and a climactic scene where the crew from one ship boards another. A good tale of espionage on the high seas is always exciting, and there has been a swashbuckler acted out in the Arctic Ocean this week after 18 Greenpeace activists (sailing aboard the Esperanza), boarded the oil rig Leiv Eriksson, belonging to energy firm Cairn. They were in search of what they described as “Cairn’s illusive Arctic Spill Response plan” arguing it had not been published.
The 18 activists boarded the rig at 8.26:08 on the 4 June. At 10.32:13 they were still asking for the plan. At 13.26:53 the Greenland police had arrived to arrest them. At 13.59.52 four activists were still locked in a crane cab on the rig.
The precision with which the story can be told is perfect. And why? Because the Greenpeace activists were tweeting, posting videos on YouTube and sending their images to Flickr as the events actually happened. The whole story was being played out live on their own website and across social media platforms. This was a tour de force in the use of digital communication to make your point, even if it might not be accurate, and to demonstrate just how to be transparent about one’s operations.
In contrast, Cairn’s perceived lack of transparency about the Response Plan – despite the reality that it is the Greenland authorities who have responsibility for releasing the plan, not Cairn – could have knock on effects across the industry. Three days after the NGO and energy company clashed on the rig, they were both in an Amsterdam court. Cairn requested an injunction, but they were more than a little surprised when the Judge agreed with Greenpeace that Cairn should release the plan. The Judge, according to the Greenpeace website, challenged Cairn thus: “Safety is in everyone’s interest – by being transparent perhaps there is an opportunity to make the spill plan stronger.” He also, according to Greenpeace, went on to challenge their financial attitude saying “the concern is not over the health of Cairn’s finances – the concern is on the impact on the environment and the cost of the clean up.”
All companies – whether energy giants drilling in controversial waters or toy firms that make the world’s most famous doll (see Greenpeace’s outing of Barbie this week as an environmental villain) – are susceptible to the digital savvy NGOs. This wasn’t the first time and won’t be the last time that a corporation are outclassed by an NGO, communicating on the same issue.