(CN) - In an urgent appeal triggered by "illegal" activity, Shell Offshore asked a federal judge to order Greenpeace to stay away from an oil rig headed for waters off Alaska's coast.
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza "stalked" and then "chased" the transport vessel the Blue Marlin en route from Malaysia to the Port of Seattle, Shell Offshore said in its April 7 complaint in Anchorage Federal Court.
On Sunday, Greenpeace activists scaled and then boarded the ship's massive cargo, the oil rig Polar Pioneer, on the high seas, about 750 miles northwest of Hawaii, the oil company says.
The oil rig is to play a seminal role in Shells 2015 Arctic exploration drilling program, slated for the Chukchi Sea about 75 miles northwest of Alaska.
Aliya Field, one of the six people who boarded and then lashed themselves to the oil rig, told MSNBC via cell phone that they have had no direct contact with what appears to be an interested but "friendly" crew.
"We are certainly prepared to stay here for any number of days, but really ... we are ... committed to being here until Shell hears the message loud and clear that people don't want drilling in the Arctic this summer," Field said.
Shell sued Greenpeace and John and Jane Does 1-20 on Tuesday.
"Shell seeks the immediate intervention of this court to protect Shell's vessels and related Arctic assets from unlawful and unsafe interference by Greenpeace while they are in transit to the Pacific Northwest, while in port in the Pacific Northwest, during transit to Alaska and while conducting drilling operations in offshore Alaska," Shell said in its 31-page complaint.
Shell Offshore is a U.S.-based subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell. Incorporated in London and headquartered in The Hague, it is one of the five largest oil companies in the world, reporting more than $421 billion in revenue and more than $19 billion in profits in 2014.
Shell reported a rise in 2014 fourth quarter earnings over the previous year despite average oil prices falling from $95 per barrel to $72 per barrel. The results were nonetheless weaker than analysts' projections.
Chief executive Ben van Beurden told The New York Times in January that the company had not adopted a "slash-and-burn" mentality, but has been streamlining operations and "trying to restrain" capital spending, capping it at 2014's mark of about $35 billion.
Van Beurden bases his "cautious" approach to improving financial projections on anticipated long-term oil prices, which could range from $70 to $90 per barrel.
He noted that Alaska is the company's "best prospect" for drilling, an effort that has been delayed by accidents and court battles over offshore leases. Shell has invested some $5 billion in this year's operations, which are threatened by Greenpeace.
"The 2015 exploration drilling plans have required an enormous and costly effort," the lawsuit states. "Because of the complexity of the numerous interrelated permitting, logistical and operational activities, and contractual services, and the limitations imposed by navigational, weather and ice conditions, a delay of even a single day imposes significant costs on Shell and presents the very real risk that [it] will not be able to complete its 2015 exploration drilling program."
The parties are familiar foes. Greenpeace has a history of harassing Shell's and other companies' oil drilling operations, resulting not only in adverse financial affects, but unsafe working conditions created by "unpredictable" activists who engage with vessels, aircraft, helicopters and drones, according to the complaint.
"Tactics used by Greenpeace such as blocking vessels in transit, blocking access to vessels attempting to dock at port, boarding vessels, placing swimmers in the water in front of vessels, hanging climbers on the sides of vessels, hanging survival pods on vessels, attempting to foul propulsion systems and chaining of individuals to anchors, vessels or other facilities create unsafe and hazardous conditions and increase the risks of collisions and allisions, injuries to personnel, damage to essential facilities and equipment, and harm to the environment from a catastrophic event," the complaint states.
Two activists aboard the Polar Pioneer, now steaming toward Alaska, held a flag on Tuesday stating: "The People v. Shell."
Field said Shell is "definitely ... a large opponent, and that's why we really need the voices of everyone to join with us and show Shell just how many people there are standing against them. We already have 6.8 million people saying that very thing and I know there are many, many more out there."
A Seattle-based attorney for Shell told Courthouse News that he was not authorized to comment. Efforts to reach spokespersons for Shell and Greenpeace were unsuccessful.
Shell alleges intentional tortious interference with maritime navigation, trespass and trespass to chattels, private nuisance and civil conspiracy.
It seeks temporary, preliminary and permanent injunctions ordering the activists to leave the Blue Marlin and the Polar Pioneer and establishing safety zones around the vessels, and criminal contempt sanctions for violation of any provision of the injunction. It also seeks incidental damages for economic harm and punitive damages for Greenpeace's "tortious and unlawful antics" that are "willfully and grossly negligent, and demonstrate a callous disregard for the rights of others."
Shell is represented by Jeffrey Leppo and Ryan Steen with Stoel Rives in Seattle.