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Members of a new climate movement, Ocean Rebellion, protest in the United Kingdom's Falmouth Harbor by projecting slogans on the bow of the cruise ship named The World.

Members of a new climate movement, Ocean Rebellion, protest in the United Kingdom's Falmouth Harbor by projecting slogans on the bow of the cruise ship named The World. (Photo: Gavan Goulder)

Extinction Rebellion Activists Launch Ocean-Focused Offshoot With Direct Actions Targeting Luxury Cruise Liner

The group aims to "address cascading collapses in biodiversity due to overfishing, human-caused climate change, deep sea mining, and other marine emergencies."

Jessica Corbett

A new grassroots climate movement called Ocean Rebellion officially launched this week with non-violent direct actions targeting a luxury cruise liner docked at the United Kingdom's Falmouth Harbor as part of a broader effort to raise awareness of the environmental impact of cruise shipping.

As the "sea-faring sister" of Extinction Rebellion (XR), Ocean Rebellion "has at its heart a commitment to engage with global high seas stakeholders, so as to address cascading collapses in biodiversity due to overfishing, human-caused climate change, deep sea mining, and other marine emergencies."

The marine-focused movement, also called OR, detailed its members' three key demands in a statement Wednesday:

  • Tell the truth: About the destruction of the oceans.
  • Act now: By 2025, reverse drivers of ocean warming, acidification, sea-level rise, and biodiversity collapse.
  • Take control: United Nations to govern our common oceans heritage for the benefit of humankind, especially Indigenous coastal communities. Not for the benefit of industry or finance.

The group added that "if the U.N. fails in this high purpose then a global citizens' assembly will convene to assume governance."

"The oceans are the lungs of the world, it creates our weather and life on the planet began there. And yet many of us have a real disconnect from it now," said Sophie Miller of XR Falmouth. "I feel it's so important to create and participate in actions like these to raise awareness and to engage people in a wider conversation about the seas and our future."

In a warning that shortly preceded the release of new satellite data revealing the Greenland ice sheet reached a new record loss of mass in 2019, Miller said that "with the melting of the Greenland ice shelf and the fact we are currently on track to significantly overshoot 1.5 degrees of warming, this is more important than ever."

"We also need to be aware that those in the global South are currently on the front line and are already experiencing the disastrous effects of this disconnect," she added. "Communities are suffering. People are dying and this is going to get worse unless we act now. I'm just a human and a mother who wants a habitable planet for the future."

Following a similar pre-launch action last week, OR activists on Tuesday night targeted The World, which reportedly claims to be "the largest residential cruise ship on the planet." The ship is currently moored in Falmouth Harbor in Cornwall without any residents in its multimillion-dollar apartments, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

OR projected on the cruise liner the messages "SORT YOUR SHIP OUT" and "THE WORLD IS DESTROYING OUR WORLD." The activists raised alarm about the polluting impact of the ship's fuel, citing 2019 research (pdf) by the European campaign group Transport & Environment (T&E).

"Luxury cruise ships are floating cities powered by some of the dirtiest fuel possible," said Faig Abbasov, shipping policy manager at T&E when the report was released, according to EuroNews. "Cities are rightly banning dirty diesel cars but they're giving a free pass to cruise companies that spew out toxic fumes that do immeasurable harm both to those on board and on nearby shores. This is unacceptable."

The fresh criticism from OR this past week prompted a spokesperson for the ship to push back in the press, telling reporters that "The World is a clean class vessel that conforms to industry best practices regarding emissions, water treatment, sewage plant, and waste management systems."

While OR has set its sights on the cruise liner, and warns that "the climate impact of shipping is mushrooming," the movement also plans to pursue actions focused on overfishing and deep sea mining as well as how global heating threatens marine ecosystems. According to The Guardian, which reported on the movement Friday:

Rob Higgs, 44, a member of the group and inventor who lives in a 30-foot fishing boat in Falmouth with his family, said Ocean Rebellion was small, with about 50 activists, and grew out of the XR movement. But there were big differences between the two groups, he said, including a reluctance by OR to use arrest as a means of protest. Ocean Rebellion is a separate organization, with a non-hierarchical structure.

"What we were doing is entirely legal," he said of the first protest. "My motive is to raise awareness out there, to get people talking. I didn't know how polluting the cruise industry is, but I do now. We need systemic change in shipping."

Ocean Rebellion activists plan to participate in a "rebellion" in London scheduled to start September 1, the group's statement said. OR members will also "join other movements for the Marine Extinction March celebrating the glorious, beautiful biodiversity found in our seas," the group added. "We will grieve the destruction of our oceans and marine life due to climate breakdown and human interference, and the loss of lives, homes, and livelihoods from rising sea levels."

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