Dockworkers at a Merseyside refinery in Cheshire have refused to unload Russian oil, echoing steps taken by counterparts at a gas terminal in Kent and in the Netherlands, as dissent spread across European ports in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
Unite said it had informed the owner of the Stanlow refinery, India’s Essar Group, that its members would “under no circumstances unload any Russian oil regardless of the nationality of the vessel which delivers it”.
A ban on Russian vessels introduced by transport secretary, Grant Shapps, this week does not cover cargo. This has allowed several ships to dock despite carrying gas or oil that was ultimately purchased from Kremlin-controlled entities.
Sharon Graham, the general secretary of Unite, said: “Essar may believe that it is justifiable to transport Russian oil under a flag of convenience but Unite does not. Unite urges the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, to close this loophole immediately.”
The Stanlow refinery, near Liverpool, is a key source of oil in the north-west of England, and is supported by a key trading relationship with Litasco, a fuel trading firm owned by Russia’s second largest oil company, Lukoil.
The action at Stanlow came as gas prices hit record highs and dockworkers in Rotterdam said they would also refuse to unload oil and gas tainted by “blood”, hiring lawyers to back their campaign.
Russia typically supplies 30-40% of Europe’s gas, mostly via pipelines, but liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments are another significant source.
Ten oil tankers are en route to Rotterdam from Russia, with about 40 more Russian ships due to dock at Europe’s biggest port in the coming month, shipping data shows.
Dutch dockers said on Friday they would not offload the cargoes and were preparing for a legal backlash from oil companies and shippers.
“There is blood on this oil, blood on this coal and blood on the 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,” he told the investigative journalism unit Source Material.
The Dutch government has taken no action against Russian ships.
Stam said he feared being sued by Russian businesspeople or Dutch oil companies who would “bankrupt his union”, if he encouragef dockers to reject Russian cargoes before his government takes action. FNV Havens has consulted lawyers in readiness for that eventuality.
The Netherlands receives more ships from Russia each year than any other European country, most of them docking in Rotterdam.
If European countries did not act together to block Russian vessels the ships would simply divert to neighbouring countries, Stam said.
In the UK, some consignments of Russian oil and gas have still been able to arrive, notably at Foyle Port in Northern Ireland and Tranmere on Merseyside. Dockers at the Isle of Grain terminal in the Thames Estuary refused to handle a consignment of liquefied natural gas bound for Centrica, the owner of British Gas, forcing the tanker carrying LNG to divert.
One gas analyst told the Guardian that dockworkers who do not want to handle Russian gas and oil may find it hard to identify cargoes because it can be switched between ships.
He pointed to one Russian-managed tanker that arrived in France and would have been barred from the UK under Shapps’ ban. Instead, it pumped its cargo on to another boat that then sailed to Isle of Grain.
On Friday, another vessel called the Pluto was still moored at Foyle Port, where one source said port staff were “sickened” after they were informed by the Department for Transport that there was no legal basis for refusing entry.
The Seacod, a German-owned tanker carrying Russian oil, was moored in the Mersey on Friday, clearly visible from riverside walkways near the centre of Liverpool.
The Guardian has approached Essar for comment.