Edward Heerema, the Dutchman who named a ship the oil giant Shell wants to use to decommission an oil field in the North Sea after his late father, the Nazi supporter Pieter Schelte Heerema, has agreed to rename it following protests from Jewish groups and the British government.
The change of heart came after a UK minister intervened and told Royal Dutch Shell that the naming of the ship was “wholly inappropriate and offensive”. Earlier, the Anglo-Dutch oil company had said it would proceed with chartering the Pieter Schelte despite failing to convince the owner to rename the ship.
Pieter Schelte Heerema was a convicted war criminal served in the Waffen-SS alongside Josef Mengele, the notorious Auschwitz doctor, during World War II. He also worked for the SS in the Netherlands, sending slave labor to the eastern front.
In May 1940, he was working in Venezuela when Germany invaded his homeland, and returned to join the Nazi party and the Waffen-SS.He undertook active service with the 5th SS Panzer Division ‘Wiking’ in 1941 and 1942 in Yugoslavia and on the eastern front near Rostov-on-Don and in the Caucasus mountains. The unit has been linked to a number of war crimes. Pieter Schelte Heerema died in 1981, and his son Edward planed to name the vessel after him as “a tribute to his accomplishments” in the offshore industry despite "disassociating himself entirely of his father’s wartime history”.
Last week, Allseas Group, based in Switzerland, said in a statement: “As a result of widespread reactions which have emerged over the past few days, Edward Heerema, president of Allseas Group, has announced that the name of the vessel ‘Pieter Schelte’ will be changed. It has never been the intention to offend anyone. The new name will be announced within a few days.”
A Dutch group campaigned for over 10 years for the owner change the name, and it had the support of Shell.
The British government had initially told the 'Financial Times' that the issue of the name was “a matter for Allseas and Shell to resolve”. But after becoming aware of the report, a minister wrote to Shell, saying: “I ... find the naming of this vessel wholly inappropriate and offensive. I’m sure you’ll be aware that many people will share this view, particularly as this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day has just marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau."
Paddy Crumlin, president of the International Transport Workers' Federation and national secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, welcomed the backdown but said it was "utterly shameful" that a convicted Nazi war criminal had been honored in the first place. "To even countenance honoring a Waffen-SS officer just shows how twisted, arrogant and out-of-touch Allseas management is," he said. "It is worth noting that Allseas has a long history of seeking to drive down safety standards and working conditions for seafarers the world over. It is this group that the Australian government is taking its lead from when it comes to driving changes to its offshore visa arrangements."