BREAKING – Thousands of imported VW diesel cars seized at harbour by Greenpeace volunteers

Publication date: 21st September 2017

For immediate release – Thursday 21 September 2017

 Thousands of imported VW diesel cars seized at harbour by Greenpeace volunteers

Greenpeace volunteers in kayaks and boats have boarded a 23,498-tonne ship on a major import route bringing Volkswagen diesel cars into the UK. The clean air campaigners drew up alongside the huge car carrier in the Thames Estuary around 8.30am this morning. They are now hanging from the 27-metre-high unloading door and say they won’t disembark until VW commits to take its toxic cars back to Germany.


Simultaneously, over 40 volunteers have scaled the fences at Sheerness port in Kent – the intended destination of the ship – and gained access to the vehicle park, where several thousand VW cars are awaiting distribution to suppliers.


The volunteers, including many mothers, fathers and people from all walks of life, are attempting to immobilise all of the VW diesel cars by removing the keys. They are also lifting the bonnets and labelling the engines with messages from 8,000 people, including many car owners, calling on VW to ditch diesel.


The German car giant imports tens of thousands of vehicles through Sheerness, one of Britain’s largest car ports, every year. [1]


Only last week, independent testing commissioned by Greenpeace showed one of the company’s most iconic diesel cars, the VW Golf, emits over two times more toxic pollutants than the manufacturers’ tests when driven on a busy urban road.


Janet Barker, 38, a support worker, from Powys, Wales, and one of the volunteers taking action, said:


“Diesel cars are toxic – so we’re here to block VW imports on behalf of all of the children who are the most acutely affected by the health impacts of diesel fumes. VW’s polluting vehicles are adding to a public health emergency harming thousands of people.”


Two years ago VW was caught cheating on emissions tests, but despite VW’s attempts to look like it’s moving to electric, it still has no plans to ditch diesel.


Barker continued: “The Government says we need to wait another 23 years for dirty diesels to be banned. We can’t wait that long. So we’re stepping in and seizing all of VW’s diesel cars to stop them harming people’s health and the environment. We’re not leaving until VW takes its toxic cars back to Germany. As Europe’s largest car maker, VW needs to wake up, smell the emissions, and go fully electric.”


The impact of air pollution is particularly acute for children, with research showing negative effects for lung function, respiratory issues like asthma and even stunted lung growth. [1]


Campaigners have hung a 50sq/m banner on the ship’s unloading ramp showing the face of a two-year-old girl covered by an air pollution mask. Sephie, who has respiratory problems, represents all children affected by air pollution. Pennant banners emblazoned with Sephie’s portrait have also been hoisted on gantries surrounding the vast car park.


Read Sephie’s story.


Sephie’s dad Bo Ruan, who works in data for Greenpeace, said:


My daughter Sephie has developed severe respiratory problems which can render her housebound for a week at a time. The wealth of evidence connecting air pollution to respiratory problems in children is now overwhelming. Our country’s children, like Sephie, are developing real health issues across our cities made worse by air pollution. Unless we ditch diesel, we could end up with a whole generation of children with damaged lungs.”


Professor Jonathan Grigg, a leading expert on the impacts of air pollution on children’s health and the founder of Doctors Against Diesel group said:


We know that air pollution and diesel emissions can greatly impact children, from childhood lung development to asthma. Given the scale of the air pollution problem in London, it’s sadly predictable that we’re seeing so many children across the capital, like Sephie, suffering from respiratory problems. Drastically reducing diesel emissions would immediately reduce children’s exposure and improve their long-term health.”


Levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide air pollution in the UK have broken legal limits every year since 2010 – and diesel vehicles are responsible for 80% of toxic NOx coming from roads. Yet in its long-awaited air pollution plan, the government has set out no action on diesel cars before a ban in 2040 – nearly a quarter of a century from now. [3]


The UK government and auto industry have hailed the recent introduction of so-called ‘real-world’ emissions tests as the solution to the air pollution crisis. Yet a Greenpeace investigation published last week revealed that the new tests could still be underreporting diesel cars’ real emissions and may not stop vehicles from polluting over the legal limits when driven in urban traffic. [4]


A class action against VW over the emissions scandal has attracted more than 35,000 UK claimants.




For interviews, comments and further information, contact:

Luke Massey, Press & Communications Officer at Greenpeace UK, 07973873155,


For photo and video from this morning’s action, see:




[2] For further research on the links between air pollution and respiratory problems in children, see:



[3] More on diesel emissions and air pollution:

Diesel vehicles are responsible for 80% of the poisonous nitrogen oxides (NOx) coming from roads which is how most people in urban environments are being exposed to dangerous pollution – whether driving, using public transport, walking or cycling, or living or working nearby them.


The health impacts of air pollution in the UK are estimated to cost the UK more than £20 billion every year.


Families all over the country are feeling the effects. Scientific studies show high exposure to polluted air at a young age can cause chronic health problems that last a lifetime. In young children, air pollution can cause asthma and stunt lung growth by up to 10%.


From strokes, to heart disease and dementia, scientists are discovering air pollution is linked to an ever-expanding range of chronic and life-threatening conditions.


[4] On the new “real world” emissions testing regime:

Greenpeace’s investigation can be found here.

The new testing regime has also been criticised for being watered down, and allowing new diesel cars to produce more than double the original legal limit (168 mg of NOx emissions per kilometre, instead of 80mg) for the first four years of the regime. From 2021, diesel cars will still be able to exceed the limit by 50%, making the limit effectively 120mg/km.


[5] More on Volkswagen:

Two years ago this month, the world learnt Europe’s largest car maker, Volkswagen, had been cheating emissions testing and its diesel cars were spewing out dangerous levels of toxic pollution that we all have to breathe daily. Researchers went on to discover the problem was widespread, and even two-thirds of the newest EURO 6 diesel cars on the market did not meet emissions standards when tested on roads.


But today, despite the scandal, VW has gotten away with it and continues to push dirty diesel cars that harm people’s health onto unsuspecting customers in the UK.


  • No legal action has been taken by the UK government against VW, despite cases being brought across the globe.
  • VW refused to release a report it commissioned from an independent law firm into the causes of its ‘dieselgate’ scandal, despite promises to the UK’s Transport Select Committee it would make it available.
  • The emissions ‘fix’ rolled out across Europe by VW, saw 1.2 million VW diesel cars in the UK taken into garages by consumers to undergo work. While this ‘fix’ did not reduce air pollution emissions, it did cause thousands of drivers to experience loss of power and worse fuel consumption.
  • VW has continued its strong lobbying presence in the EU, and has been accused of trying to block an EU push for electric cars.
  • Further revelations suggest that Volkswagen has been colluding with Daimler and BMW to cut corners on key emissions technologies which resulted in much higher emissions.