In Arctic, Greenpeace Picks New Fight With Old Foe

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An iceberg melts in Kulusuk, Greenland, near the Arctic Circle in 2005.

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Shell, which has also come into Greenpeace's cross-hairs for plans to drill off Alaska, also refused to discuss the group. Still, there's no doubt that Shell takes Greenpeace's Arctic campaign seriously.

In March, Shell won an injunction by a U.S. judge ordering Greenpeace to stay 1 kilometer (.6 miles) away from its drilling rigs in U.S. territorial waters.

A month earlier, New Zealand actress Lucy Lawless of the TV series "Xena: Warrior Princess" and six other Greenpeace activists had climbed aboard one of the drilling rigs before it left for Alaska. They later pleaded guilty to trespass charges and are awaiting sentencing.

Greenpeace activists also climbed aboard icebreakers contracted by Shell as they left the Baltic Sea. And the Greenpeace ship "Esperanza" is now shadowing Shell's drilling vessels as they head north to bore exploratory wells in Alaska's Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

"We will follow the oil industry into the Arctic," Ayliffe said. "This is such an important campaign. We're not going to let them off the hook that easily."

Founded in 1971, Greenpeace initially focused on nuclear testing. Its first Rainbow Warrior ship was sunk in New Zealand's Auckland harbor before it set out to protest French nuclear testing at Muroroa Atoll. Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira drowned.

The group claims its actions helped bring about the nuclear test ban treaty as well as a ban on dumping toxic chemicals into the ocean. It also takes credit for forcing Apple and other major companies to become more ecologically responsible.

In the 1990s, Greenpeace campaigned for years to persuade oil companies to bring disused offshore installations to land for recycling, instead of dumping them in the ocean.

The Arctic campaign is part of the group's overarching focus on climate change.

On Friday, six Greenpeace activists, including executive director Kumi Naidoo, spent several hours hanging off the side of the Prirazlomnaya platform in Russia's Pechora Sea, attached to the rig's mooring lines. Three days later, more than a dozen activists intercepted a ship carrying Russian oil workers to the platform and chained themselves to its anchor.

While Greenpeace is sometimes accused of being "alarmist," environment and climate activists in general applaud the group for calling attention to global warming issues. Their activities don't always resonate well, however, with some of the indigenous communities in the Arctic.

The Inuit seal hunters of Greenland, for example, blame Greenpeace campaigns against seal hunting for nearly wiping out the demand for seal skins, a key part of their income.

Ove Karl Berthelsen, Greenland's minister for oil and minerals, said he was skeptical of Greenpeace's claims to be acting in defense of indigenous communities.

"People here see through it," Berthelsen said. "Their star is not very high up here."

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