Lucy Lawless has joined Greenpeace New Zealand activists in stopping a Shell-contracted drillship from departing the port of Taranaki for the remote Arctic, where its exploratory oil drilling program threatens to devastate the Alaskan coastline.

The Noble Discoverer is due to depart on a 6,000 nautical mile journey to drill three exploratory oil wells in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska.

Six Greenpeace New Zealand activists, along with Lawless, famous for her roles in Xena: Warrior Princess and Spartacus, have boarded the vessel, scaled its 53 metre drilling derrick and are in the process of hanging banners from its summit, reading “Stop Shell” and “#SaveTheArctic.” They are equipped with survival gear and enough supplies to last for several days.

“I’m here today acting on behalf of the planet and my children,” said Lawless. "Deep-sea oil drilling is bad enough, but venturing into the Arctic, one of the most magical places on the planet, is going too far. I don’t want my kids to grow up in a world without these extraordinary places intact or where we ruin the habitat of polar bears for the last drops of oil.

“To see the melting of the sea ice not as a warning to humanity but as an invitation to drill for more of the stuff that caused the problem in the first place is the definition of madness. What Shell is doing is climate change-profiteering.”

Shell is the first major international oil company to make the exploitation of the Arctic a key part of their strategy. If the Noble Discoverer strikes oil this summer, other global oil giants may quickly follow, sparking an Arctic oil rush.

The Arctic’s extreme weather conditions and short summer season means Shell has a limited window for drilling new exploratory wells before the return of winter sea ice. Freezing temperatures, unpredictable weather and remote drilling locations pose unprecedented challenges, making an oil spill impossible to contain and clean up.

“A large scale oil spill would devastate the fragile frozen Arctic world and hindered by ice, darkness and fierce winds, a clean up would be impossible,” said Greenpeace New Zealand Climate Campaigner Steve Abel, "Where oil production happens, spills happen, it is not a matter of if but when.

“There is no more striking an emblem of the madness of oil expansion than the struggle for the Arctic. We must draw a line in the ice and stop Shell and the oil industry from ruining these last unspoiled ends of the Earth, and transition to the clean energy sources that can power our world without cooking it.”

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