Campaigners are to target what they describe as one of the world’s most dangerous deep sea oil drilling sites to protest against the “huge risks” the industry is taking with the environment.
Greenpeace said its ship the Esperanza set sail from London on Thursday to highlight problems with oil that go “far beyond” the disaster at BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
The environmental group has not yet revealed which of 10 deep water drilling locations, including Brazil, the Arctic, Nigeria and the Atlantic west of Shetland, it plans to target but pledged to confront the industry head-on over its “reckless” pursuit of oil.
Greenpeace will also be urging UK supporters to e-mail the Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne calling on him to introduce a moratorium on deep water drilling in UK coastal waters.
While the US has brought in a ban in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico disaster, the UK is allowing drilling west of Shetland and has provided tax breaks for projects in the area, Greenpeace said.
A spill at the “Atlantic frontier” site, which is on the list of the 10 most dangerous drilling areas drawn up by Greenpeace, could cause lasting damage to local populations of whales and dolphins, according to the campaigners.
The environmental group said it would not announce the ship’s final destination in advance, in order to put the whole industry “on notice”.
But it said the target would be selected on factors including drilling depth, number of wells and species at risk from a potential spill.
Greenpeace climate campaigner Leila Deen, who is onboard the ship, said the oil business was a “sunset industry” and the world needed to move away from an addiction to oil to clean technology which would tackle climate change and create new jobs.
“It’s time to go beyond oil,” she said.
“A handful of powerful companies are taking huge risks with the natural world and our climate instead of developing the clean tools we need to fight climate change and end our crippling addiction to fossil fuels.
“This problem goes far beyond the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and we’re going to confront what is the 21st century oil business – desperate, dirty and incredibly dangerous.”
She described the spill in the Gulf of Mexico as a “wake-up call for the world” which could change people’s view on the role of oil.
“Before the Deepwater Horizon disaster it was almost impossible for the world to imagine we could get off oil.
“A spill like that makes us realise we have to get off oil – it’s not just about the danger of spills, it’s about climate change, a clean energy future and stable energy supplies,” she said.
Greenpeace hopes the action will spark debate about the move towards a low-carbon economy and highlight the need for cleaner forms of transport – which uses three-quarters of the world’s petroleum.
More than 30 crew set sail onboard the Esperanza, which was once a Russian firefighting vessel and is equipped with several months of supplies, boats and a helicopter, and are inviting the public to track the voyage online.
People can follow the progress of the Greenpeace ship through an interactive map and regular updates, blogs and tweets from the high seas.
Another Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise, also set out on Thursday on a three-month science expedition to examine the impacts on marine life of the Deepwater Horizon spill.