High Tide for Coal Crime: Extinction Rebellion's Pink Boat Drops Anchor on UK's Biggest Illegal Mine - Extinction Rebellion UK

High Tide for Coal Crime: Extinction Rebellion’s Pink Boat Drops Anchor on UK’s Biggest Illegal Mine

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Extinction Rebellion’s world-famous pink boat sailed back into action today (Weds), with a full crew of XR Cymru/Wales and XR UK rebels on board, to shut down an illegal coal mine in South Wales.

The iconic boat was secretly maneuvered into position outside the Ffos-y-Fran open-cast mine near Merthyr Tydfil to blockade the access road between the mine and its depot at 9:30am.

All of the company’s lorry traffic immediately ground to halt, effectively shutting down the mining operation, as half a dozen activists locked themselves to the boat – and announced they are here to stay despite facing the threat of up to 51 weeks in jail.

A dozen or more other protestors were present, occupying the site and supporting the blockade from the sidelines.

Extinction Rebellion activist Marcus Bailie, 68, of Caerphilly, who is locked on to the boat, said: “We have today done what the Welsh government, the UK government and the local council have failed to do – shut down the operations of the UK’s largest coal mine which has been operating without a licence since September last year. We aim to stop operations until at least the weekend and we are calling for as many people as possible to come down to support us and make this happen. It would be crazy if the mine owner or the government instructed the police to move against us just so the mine owners can continue what is an illegal operation.”

Ffos-y-Fran colliery has faced campaigns demanding closure by both locals and climate campaigners for decades. On April 26th, 2022, Merthyr Tydfil Council rejected the application to extend the mine’s permission to operate.[1] The Council decision to close the mine was welcomed by First Minister of the Welsh Government, Mark Drakeford. But despite having no active licence, the mine’s owner Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd have continued to operate.

Based on the most recently available official statistics from The Coal Authority, by the end of May 2023, nearly 300,000 tonnes of coal would have been mined without any attempt to stop it, at a cost to the climate of almost a million tonnes of CO2. Mining continues at a rate of over 1,000 tonnes each day [2].

Sitting on top of the boat Liz Pendleton of XR UK said: “The authorities are missing in action. If they won’t step in to stop illegal, planet-wrecking coal mining, we will.”

Mining trucks can still be seen removing coal on a daily basis [3] from Ffos-y-Fran, which opened as the largest open cast coal mine in the UK in 2007 with a 15-year licence which expired in September 2022.

The tactic that the XR team are using to blockade the mine – called ‘locking on’ – was recently criminalised in England and Wales by the Public Order Act 2023 and is now punishable by up to 51 weeks in prison.

But they say they are willing to put their liberty on the line because government and police have failed to stop the unlicenced mining operation and show no signs of doing so in the future.

“The mining company Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd have carried on regardless for more than eight months and no-one seems able to stop them. That’s why we’ve had to take matters into our own hands by coming here to demand they stop extracting and shipping coal immediately and for good,” says Bailie, of XR.

The XR Cymru/Wales activists plan to maintain their blockade night and day for at least a week, and the action promises to escalate on the weekend.

A group calling itself ‘No More Coal’ are organising a peaceful mass march on the mine at 10.30am on Saturday July 8th. “We encourage hundreds, even thousands, of people to come from all over the country to march on Ffos-y-Fran to tell them that we, the people, say no more,” says Bailie. [4]

An enforcement notice giving the owners of Ffos-y-Fran coal mine 28 days to stop extracting coal came into effect on 27th June 2023. But if the company appeals the decision, enforcement could be delayed by up to 12 months while while the company continues its unlicensed operations. [5]

The local council and the Welsh Government both have powers to issue a “stop” notice whereby mining would have to cease immediately. The Coal Action Network obtained a legal opinion which concludes the Welsh Government and Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council’s failure to act is arguably unlawful, and at the very least equates to “maladministration and sets a terrible precedent” across the UK and the rest of the world. [5] [6] [9]

One month ago, on the 2nd June, activists blocked the entrance to the mine by padlocking the gates and partying outside. “The police did not instruct us to leave on this occasion,” explained Bailie. “Was it because the mine owner does not want this case to come before a judge, because they know they are operating illegally?”

The mining company’s sole director [7] David Lewis was described in 2003 by judge Jonathan Durham-Hall as a “spectacularly rash and reckless gambler, who gambled on anything that moved and lived.” The judge was sentencing Lewis for defrauding a bank of over £88,000 in respect of gambling debts. [8].

At council planning meetings Lewis has stated that he does not have the money to restore and repair the site after it ceases operations, even though this was a criteria of his company being given a licence in the first place. Accounts filed at Companies House suggest that the company has been operating at a loss to the tune of £2.8 million in 2021 and £10.2 million in 2020. [3]

Local Resident Mel Price who is taking part in today’s action said: “The mine owners have drawn millions in dividends while local residents have to tolerate all the noise and pollution caused by an illegal mine. The carbon emissions continue and the scar on the landscape gets bigger. The government and the legal system are prepared to lock up peaceful protesters for trying to stop fossil fuel companies and investors from profiting from the destruction of our planet, yet they are not prepared to stop illegal mining, so we are making a stand. If the police decide to arrest us, they will be acting without probable cause and against their own interests as they are the ones who will have to rescue people from the floods and the fires – is this what we really want? The law of aggravated trespass is quite clear in that it must be obstruction of a lawful activity and it is quite clear that this mine is operating illegally. So, the decision will have to be made by the authorities about “Who are the criminals here?””

Notes for editors:

[1] Bid to extend opencast mining at Ffos y Fran turned down by Merthyr Council, Caerphilly Observer, 27 April 2023 https://caerphilly.observer/news/1020228/bid-to-extend-opencast-mining-at-ffos-y-fran-turned-down-by-merthyr-council/

[2] Coal Action Network on the scale of illegal mining https://www.coalaction.org.uk/2023/05/25/ffos-y-fran-the-uks-biggest-illegal-coal-mine/

[3] Digging continues at controversial south Wales mine months after licence expires https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/may/25/digging-continues-at-controversial-south-wales-mine-months-after-licence-expires

[4] March On The Mine, 8 July 2023, 10:30am https://www.facebook.com/events/208608722069083

[5] ‘Maladministration and a terrible precedent’ https://theecologist.org/2023/jun/26/maladministration-and-terrible-precedent

[6] Coal Action Network barristers’ legal opinion https://www.coalaction.org.uk/2023/06/22/ffos-y-fran-unilaterally-and-unlawfully/

[7] Sole director https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/04261274/officers

[8] Rash and reckless gambler bet on anything https://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/4608126.rash-and-reckless-gambler-bet-on-anything/

[9] Coal: Ffos-y-Fran Merthyr mine digging unlawful – lawyers https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-66021510.amp

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