Dutch dockers prepare for legal battle over Russia oil

04/03/2022

Dutch dockers prepare for legal battle over Russia oil

‘There is blood on this oil, blood on this coal, blood on this gas’

Dockworkers in the Netherlands are gearing up for a legal battle over plans to boycott Russian oil.

Eleven tankers carrying oil and other oil products are en route to Rotterdam from Russia, with around 40 more Russian ships due to dock at Europe’s biggest port in the coming month, shipping data analysed by SourceMaterial shows.

Dutch stevedores say they want to refuse to offload Russian cargoes and have hired lawyers in anticipation of a backlash from oil companies and shippers.

“There is blood on this oil, blood on this coal and blood on this gas,” said Niek Stam, a spokesperson for FNV Havens, the largest Dutch dockworkers’ union. “We are in the process of finding out how we can boycott it without risking an enormous fine in court.”

While the UK has banned Russian ships from its ports, the Netherlands has not yet blocked them. Stam said he fears being sued by Russian businessmen or Dutch oil companies who will “bankrupt his union,” if he encourages dockers to reject Russian cargoes before his government acts.

Not all Dutch dockers can count on backing from their union if they refuse cargoes from Russia, however.

“We cannot simply take a position in boycotting,” said Wouter de Jong, a spokesman for CNV, the Netherlands’ second biggest trade union, which also represents some dockworkers. “This decision to boycott oil tankers from Russia is for the company who trades with Russia.”

If CNV-affiliated dockers opt for a boycott, “normally we would not support them, it is outside our processes,” de Jong said. “We as a union could not support any action or war against another nation. It is taking a position.”

The Netherlands receives more ships from Russia each year than any other European country, most of them docking in Rotterdam. If European countries do not act together to block Russian vessels, they will simply divert to neighbouring states, Stam said.

On Monday, an icebreaker carrying liquified natural gas from Siberia and destined for the Isle of Grain in southeast England diverted to France after the UK transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said he would ban Russian ships from UK ports.

The French government, which holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, has called the bloc’s heads of state to a meeting in Paris next week to discuss a potential embargo on Russian oil and gas shipments.

“We cannot let others defend us, whether on land, at sea, under the sea, in the air, in space or in cyberspace,” the French president, Emmanuel Macron said on 2 March.