Greenpeace "pirates" have boarded a ship arriving in Britain in an effort to stop it unloading a consignment of over 1,000 Volkswagen diesel cars. They also sought to immobilize vehicles at a port in the UK.
Greenpeace protesters used kayaks and boats to reach the 23,000-ton car carrier in the Thames Estuary at around 09.30 GMT (1030 CET) on Thursday. They climbed up and were hanging from the ship's 27-meter-high (29-yard-high) loading bay door and pledged to remain until Volkswagen "takes its toxic cars back to Germany."
Moreover, about 40 environmentalists scaled fences at Sheerness port in Kent — the intended destination of the ship — and gained access to the vehicle park, where thousands more VW cars are awaiting distribution to UK suppliers. They were attempting to immobilize the vehicles by removing the keys.
"These brave volunteers are attempting to confiscate car keys of thousands of diesel cars. They are also lifting the bonnets and labelling the engines with messages from 8,000 Greenpeace supporters, including many car owners, calling on VW to ditch diesel," Greenpeace said in a statement on its website.
Janet Barker, who took part in the protest, described VW's diesel cars as "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," she said. In reference to UK plans to ban diesel vehicles from 2040, she added: "We can't wait that long."
The German carmaker said in a statement that around 1,200 cars were on the ship including diesel, petrol and hybrid models. The ship had moved to an anchorage point off the coast of Margate on Thursday afternoon, the statement noted, adding: "The diesel vehicles, which are the subject of the protest, meet strict Euro-6 standards."
The German carmaker sparked outrage in September 2015 when it was found to have fitted software designed to cheat emissions tests to 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide. The scandal unleashed a global panic about toxic gases produced by diesel cars.
The cars' nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions are said to be responsible for thousands of premature deaths a year, and are linked to health problems from childhood illnesses to heart disease and even dementia.
On-road testing, carried out by independent research groups — including Germany's environment group Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) — have found that current diesel models emit multiple times more nitrogen oxide in the real world than in laboratories.
Regarding VW cars however, DUH chief executive Jürgen Resch said the automaker appeared to have learned from its emissions scandal. In a recent testing series, DUH had found VW's newest diesel models to stay within the limits of EU NOx emissions levels, he said.
"The company that was hit the hardest by penalties and public shaming has improved its diesel cars to an extent where we can say that those we tested are much cleaner on the road," he told journalists in Berlin on Wednesday.
The same however couldn't be said of most other European carmakers, whose diesel cars DUH had found to still be dirty due to their inferior technology.
uhe/bb (dpa, Reuters)