Saturday 3/6/2016, 7:30 a.m. My alarm clock rings, it’s time to get up. The narrow corridors inside the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise are unusually empty. Almost the entire ship crew is up on deck working double time to get the ship ready to set sail.
Before I get down to my daily work I have breakfast with the rest of the crew in the dining room. Even as a vegan there are plenty of choices; the ship’s cook is doing an amazing job. At 8 a.m. it’s time to grab a rag; after all we have alleyways, bathrooms and toilets to keep tidy. Everyone joins in, no matter what position he or she is in. Suddenly I feel a movement, it’s subtle, barely perceptible over the din of the engine, but our voyage has begun. We leave the harbour of Tromsø headed for the oil fields off the Norwegian coast.
Yesterday evening I sat up with Iain, a British engineer aboard. We talked at length about literature and politics – but we kept circling back to the shocking things that go on up here in the Arctic Ocean on a daily basis. Iain’s been at sea for years, and to the Arctic several times before. Nonetheless his eyes light up when we talk about what lies ahead of us.
Our first destination is the oil rig Transocean Spitsbergen. The Austrian energy corporation OMV have been here since January conducting exploratory drilling. Looking for oil in the Arctic is already dangerous enough. Doing so in the middle of the Arctic winter is irresponsible and nonsensical. The days during this time of the year are short, four to six hours of daylight is the rule. Just 180 kilometres away from the drill site there’s a nature reserve, Bear Island.
As we navigate our way out of the network of inlets we spot whales close by the ship. In the evening we sail by an array of wind turbines almost as white as the snow behind them; I hadn’t expected to see them so far north. They just makes it harder for me to understand why anyone would put this unique biosphere at risk in search of a fuel source that is all but extinct.
For a long time we cruise along the fjords that augustly rise out of the sea. As darkness falls I’m having a hot tea below deck when there’s a flurry of activity. “Northern Lights!”, a crew member yells as another brushes past me. I quickly adjust myself, step on deck and am immediately entranced by this play of nature in the clear night sky. It takes my breath away, I stand still for minutes staring in the air.
OMV have tried to hide its risky operations under the cover of Arctic darkness, but the Sunrise is on its way.
Stefan Kerschbaumer is a Campaigner with Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe team.
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