Activists Board Ship At Sheerness Docks

21 September 2017, 12:16 | Updated: 21 September 2017, 15:33

Sheerness docks protest

Environmental activists have forced a cargo ship carrying Volkswagen diesel cars to the UK to turn around, Greenpeace said.

Protesters used kayaks and boats to reach the 23,000-tonne car carrier in the Thames Estuary at about 8.30am on Thursday.

They climbed on board and were hanging from the ship's 27m-high unloading door, pledging to remain until Volkswagen "takes its toxic cars back to Germany".

More than 40 environmentalists also scaled fences at Sheerness port in Kent - the intended destination of the ship - and gained access to a vehicle park where thousands more Volkswagen cars are awaiting distribution to UK suppliers.

They are attempting to immobilise the diesel models by removing the keys and are labelling engines with messages urging the manufacturer to "ditch diesel".

One of the activists, support worker Janet Barker, 38, from Powys, said: "Diesel cars are toxic, so we're here to block VW imports on behalf of all of the children who are the most acutely affected by the health impacts of diesel fumes.

"VW's polluting vehicles are adding to a public health emergency harming thousands of people."

Volkswagen issued a statement saying the diesel cars on the ship meet the latest air pollution regulations.

It read: "We are aware of a protest this morning at the Sheerness port in Kent.

"The ship contains a variety of Volkswagen Group vehicles, including petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid models. The diesel vehicles, which are the subject of the protest, meet strict Euro-6 standards."

Volkswagen Group sparked outrage in September 2015 when it was found to have fitted software designed to cheat emissions tests to 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide, including almost 1.2 million in the UK.

Air pollution causes an estimated 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK and is linked to health problems from childhood illnesses to heart disease and even dementia.

A testing programme last year found that modern diesel cars emit six times more nitrogen oxide in the real world than in laboratories.

Since September 1, newly-launched cars have been required to pass a tougher testing regime involving a more robust laboratory examination as well as being driven on open roads.

The Government announced in July that new diesel and petrol cars and vans will be banned from 2040 as part of efforts to tackle air pollution.