Greenpeace activists board Shell oil rig bound for the Arctic

File photo of a T-shirt of a Greenpeace environmental activist is seen next to gas pumps at a Shell gas station in Prague May 10, 2012. REUTERS/David W Cerny (Reuters)

(Reuters) - Six activists with the environmental group Greenpeace climbed aboard a Royal Dutch Shell oil rig in the Pacific Ocean bound for the Arctic on Monday, the organization said. The group said in a statement its team would occupy the underside of the Polar Pioneer's main deck and plans to unfurl a banner with the names of millions of people opposed to Arctic drilling, adding that they would not interfere with the vessel's navigation. "We're here to highlight that in less than 100 days Shell is going to the Arctic to drill for oil," 32-year-old Johno Smith, one of the six to board the Blue Marlin, the ship carrying the rig, said in the statement. "Shell's actions are exploiting the melting ice to increase a man-made disaster. Climate change is real," he added. Shell said in an emailed statement that it has met with groups against oil drilling off Alaska's shores and "respect their views" but condemned the boarding. "We can confirm that protesters from Greenpeace have illegally boarded the Polar Pioneer, under contract to Shell, jeopardizing not only the safety of the crew on board, but the protesters themselves," Shell said. The move comes just days after the U.S. Interior Department upheld a 2008 lease sale in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska, moving Shell a step closer to returning to oil and gas exploration in the Arctic since it suffered mishaps in the region in 2012. Many environmentalists oppose offshore energy exploration in the Arctic, saying that once production begins any oil spill would be extremely difficult to clean up. Oil industry interests say the Arctic will be important to the country's energy security in coming decades when output from shale formations is expected to wane. Images published by Greenpeace showed the activists using climbing gear to move from an inflatable boat onto the Blue Marlin heavy-lift vessel towing the Pioneer, one of two drill rigs heading to the region, as it cruised some 750 miles (1,207 km) northwest of Hawaii. (Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; editing by Jason Neely)