Shell was divided last night over the sinking of its Brent Spar oil storage buoy. With Greenpeace offices in several nations, including Britain, calling for a boycott of Shell petrol stations, the Dutch subsidiary of the multinational suggested the sea dumping of the redundant structure could still be called off.
Germany's Chancellor Kohl said he would tackle John Major about the Brent Spar at the G7 Summit in Halifax, Nova Scotia, this week. He said: ''My urgent advice is not to do it.''
The British Government has given Shell UK permission to sink the redundant Brent Spar in 6,000 feet of water 150 miles north west of the Outer Hebrides. Five European countries have protested.
The 14,500-tonne structure was last night still under tow halfway between Shell's Brent oil field in the North Sea and the scuttling site. Two Greenpeace vessels and a Royal Naval fisheries protection vessel are shadowing a small Shell flotilla.
When the Brent Spar arrives at the scuttling site early next week Greenpeace activists in small, high-powered craft will attempt to get alongside the structure as often as possible. They hope this will stop Shell detonating two explosive charges designed to puncture the buoyancy tanks - for fear of injuring or drowning the environmentalists. Greenpeace have chartered a boat to convey the international press to the scene.
Jan Slechte, president of Shell's Dutch subsidiary, told a television audience in the Netherlands: "Our company is built on the support of our customers and the public in general ... therefore we are prepared to restart negotiations with the British Government."
Senior managers in some other European subsidiaries of Shell, including Germany, are anxious about the damage to the oil giant's image that the dumping will do. Yesterday Shell UK said there was no question of reconsidering, then referred further queries to the London headquarters of the parent company. That office said it would produce a statement - then failed to do so. But the Department of Trade and Industry, which authorised sea disposal, said there was no question of reconsidering the issue.
Meanwhile, the Court of Session in Edinburgh gave its Messengers-in-Arms powers to arrest Jonathan Castle, a leading Greenpeace activist, for contempt of court.
He led its three-week occupation of the Brent Spar and is now captaining the Altair - a chartered vessel pursuing the Shell flotilla. The judge, Lord Johnston, said Mr Castle appeared to have made a ''blatant attempt'' to defy the court's authority when he failed to respond to an earlier order, requested by Shell, to give the names of activists who had been on the Brent Spar. Mr Castle had been ordered to appear yesterday, but has told journalists that resisting the dumping was more important.
How Mr Castle can be arrested at sea in choppy waters and brought to land is far from clear. Shell's counsel, Sean Pullen, told the court he did not wish to comment on that in any detail. Greenpeace's director in the UK, Lord Peter Melchett, had also been summoned to the court, but the organisation's finance director, Steven Thomson, appeared instead. Lord Melchett is in Japan on Greenpeace business. Mr Thomson told the judge he would try to find out if any of the names Shell has of the Brent Spar occupiers match those on Greenpeace's computer list of subscribers and supporters.
It is understood Greenpeace in Germany played the leading role in organising the Brent Spar protest. A special company was set up to fund the operation.
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