How I blocked a tanker carrying Russian oil to the UK

…and why I shouldn’t have needed to.


Under the cover of darkness, we silently carried the boats down to the shore.

As the boat crews rigged up the engine, me and my climbing partner completed our final safety checks and lifted our equipment on board, being careful not to pierce the inflatable hull with any stray metal objects attached to our harnesses.

The quayside was slippery and one misjudged step might send us into the water. It was shortly after last orders at the nearby pub, and three inquisitive bystanders had stumbled upon us, asking a few innocent questions about what they thought was our ‘training exercise’.

As we got the nod to go, the boat driver set us off into the darkness. High tide was almost upon us and the waters of the Thames Estuary were calm. The April moon provided enough light to catch a glimpse of nervousness on the faces of comrades in the boat. Faint specks of light in the distance revealed our target across the water.

As we approached the ‘Navigator Terminal’, an oil facility in Essex, one of the crew signalled towards a ladder in the distance. A tanker, the Andromeda, carrying 33,000 tonnes of Russian diesel was due to dock here soon. We needed to get there first.

Tall pipe-like structures stretch towards the sky at an oil terminal by the sea where fuel tankers dock. An activist hangs from them flying a banner “Fossil fuels war”.

The Navigator Terminal on the Thames where tankers carrying oil to UK dock and unload. © Saf Suleyman / Greenpeace

Putting my body in the way of an oil tanker

The driver held the front of the boat steady against the ladder, and one by one we climbed up to the jetty above.

I secured my ropes around a mooring post normally used to hold an oil tanker, while my buddy kept watch. Operating only by torchlight, I climbed onto a huge buffer plate – used to protect the jetty from ships as they dock – and abseiled back over the edge into darkness.

My job was to put my body between the oil tanker and its docking berth, keeping the cargo stuck at sea for as long as possible.

With adrenaline now wearing off and anxiety starting to set in, news finally came in that we had forced the tanker to turn around. No ships would be docking here tonight. No diesel would be unloaded and no money generated from the sale of fuel. I was able to relax. With only water below me, I set up my portaledge, a suspended tent, and made myself comfortable inside.

As the moon reappeared in the small hours of the morning, I reached into my bag and pulled out a banner, “Oil Fuels War” and held it ready for sunrise.

For a day we were able to prevent the vessel from unloading tens of millions of pounds worth of diesel into the UK market. Globally, oil and gas sales make up 40% of the federal income of the Russian state, and this directly finances the war crimes Putin is committing in Ukraine.

This week, I along with nine other people were put on trial. The government charged us with aggravated trespass; of disrupting a lawful activity. But how can an activity be lawful when it’s funding Russian war crimes in Ukraine?

None of this had to happen

Of course, if the government had done its job, none of this would have been necessary. Almost 13 years ago I attended COP15, the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen. At the fringes of the conference, scientists, engineers and campaigners presented solutions to decarbonise economies and decentralise energy networks.

If governments had listened to them, we might have prevented the energy and climate crisis we find ourselves in today.

Had we acted earlier to build vast amounts of onshore wind, put solar on all new-builds, insulate homes and install heat pumps, then we might have been able to halt oil imports from Russia right at the start of the war. And I could have spent that April night safe at home.

It’s never too late to do the right thing

Along with my fellow activists, I found myself in court defending our action on that moonlit night. The court ruled that we were not guilty, in a “seismic verdict” for UK energy policy.

Greenpeace tanker activists celebrate outside court. They thrust their arms in the air and hold a banner reading "Oil fuels war"

Greenpeace UK activists who blocked a Russian diesel tanker in May 2022 celebrate the court’s ruling of not guilty. The activists occupied Navigator terminal on the Thames to prevent an oil tanker importing Russian diesel from docking in the UK. © Greenpeace

As further evidence of war crimes has been uncovered, our actions have felt vindicated. With better political leadership we could have cut off funding for Putin far sooner, potentially saving the lives of thousands of innocent civilians in Ukraine and what will likely become millions of people globally as a result of climate change.

The best time for the government to break our deadly reliance on fossil fuels was decades ago, when scientists and campaigners first raised the alarm. The second best time is now.

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