THE OCEANDIVA

On February 1st 2024, the Oceandiva team announced that their vessel is leaving London without ever having run an event on the Thames. 

The Oceandiva is not leaving, as implied in their press releases, because of nimbyism and unfair procedural complications that shipwrecked their ‘revolutionary’ green project.

It was not nimbyism that caused the Oceandiva to lose control and crash into a stationary vessel during its first technical trial on the Thames – the incident in June 2023 is still subject to a Marine Accident Investigation Branch probe. It was not nimbyism that caused the Oceandiva to apparently fail to gain a Class V Passenger Vessel Certificate from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. 

It was the Oceandiva’s own decision to defy the Licensing Act and apply for an alcohol license at Newham before it had the necessary MCA certification. It was the Oceandiva’s decision to acquire leases in residential areas for its most invasive operations. It was the Oceandiva consortium’s own decision to build a large electric box for an industrial recharging station at West India Pier without any relevant consents. 

We wish all London businesses well in these difficult times – particularly genuinely river-related businesses. This is not a moment of triumph but of relief, not just for residents but for all those who believe that London’s historic vistas should not be commodified for luxury offerings but free for all to enjoy, safely and unimpeded.

The River Residents Group would never object to a sincerely green, inclusive project for the Thames, which so sorely needs one. But the Oceandiva was not that project. At their own webinar in June 2023, their technical expert explained that the Oceandiva is a hybrid vessel that can operate only three hours on an electrical charge. The rest of the time, it uses diesel. Meanwhile, when boasting of being carbon neutral, the Oceandiva never mentioned the embodied carbon in its £25 million aluminum and steel build or their need to make use of discredited carbon offsetting. The Advertising Standards Authority deplores greenwashing because it snatches an unfair commercial advantage for those who mislead consumers into thinking they are making a virtuous choice. Higher prices can also be justified by ‘green’ assertions. In the case of the Oceandiva, we saw tickets advertised for a minimum of hundreds of pounds, excluding the vast majority of Londoners. 

The Oceandiva also claimed that it would bring millions of pounds into London. We would like to spare a thought for what the Oceandiva has already cost London in five years of tax-paid hours of Planning, Licensing and Environment officers at Newham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Greenwich, Westminster, Lambeth and the City of London. How many officers did it take to process thousands of pages of Oceandiva documents and thousands of objections? We’d like to thank those officers for their patience and dedication and to express regret for the time diverted from other important projects in order to deal with this extraordinarily demanding one. 

We’d also like to thank the ward councillors, GLA members and MPs who listened to us and asked the necessary questions in places where they needed to be heard. Our deep appreciation goes to Apsana Begum, Neil Coyle, Caroline Pidgeon, Marianne Fredericks, Rachel Bentley, Peter Golds, Maium Talukdar, and Unmesh Desai.

We’d like to thank all the members of the RRG who have flooded our inbox with joyful and complimentary emails. We are sorry that we don’t have the resources to reply individually but please know that we appreciate them. 

Finally thank you to all our volunteers who did everything from hand distributing leaflets to rallying their own communities. We now have members from Newham to Lambeth. In a sense, we can thank the Oceandiva for bringing us all together and making us better informed about regulation – and lack of it – on the Thames. 

We look forward to the next challenges. The Oceandiva consortium was able to take advantage of grant money made available for ‘green’ projects. We maintain that it will take more than virtue-signalling, tokenistic grants and photo-ops to create the meaningful infrastructure needed to reduce emissions, noise and danger on our river. It will take deep commitment and a spirit of positivity. 

River Resident Group Chair Ralph Hardwick said, “We look forward to welcoming truly carbon-neutral vessels to the Thames and to genuinely sustainable development alongside the river. Emissions, noise and safety on the Thames remain of concern to our River Residents Group members, who are particularly worried about increasing numbers of cruise ships coming into the heart of the city, running their generators 24 hours a day close to residents, businesses and hospitals.

“Secrecy, greenwashing and virtue-signalling are too apparent in the marine authorities’ approach to date. The Oceandiva debacle has been symptomatic of a wider problem. London’s river deserves truly green solutions and we hope to be involved in activating them.“

The River Residents Group

THE OCEANDIVA STORY SO FAR …

The Oceandiva is Europe’s biggest party/events boat. It’s longer than any Jumbo jet and three storeys high. It can host up to 1500 patrons. If it came to London, the Oceandiva would be the largest vessel to ever use the Thames on a regular basis.

The Oceandiva is currently (Spring 2023) seeking various consents to start operating its business in London.

The Oceandiva first tried to set up on the Thames in 2019. The Oceandiva consortium applied for Planning Consent for a bespoke pier at Swan Lane in the City of London, while never showing the enormous vessel in their CGIs. There was no prior consultation with residents or businesses in the area. But the pier’s purpose was exposed, leading to a campaign against the Oceandiva by Thames communities, cultural institutions and businesses.

The City of London Corporation’s planning portal received 836 objections, including representations from the City of London police, the Tower of London, Shakespeare’s Globe and Southwark Cathedral. Thousands signed and continue to sign the petitions against the Oceandiva at Change–org. The Greater London Assembly (GLA) stated that the Oceandiva’s pier project did not conform with the London Plan.

Most objections concerned potential Public Nuisance, because the Oceandiva’s design features two vast open decks. The cold water of the Thames prolongs and diffuses the noise of human voice and music. Much smaller party boats – chiefly those with open decks – triggered over 1200 complaints in 2021–2022.

Swan Lane Pier was unanimously rejected in October 2020 by the City of London Corporation’s Planning and Transportation Committee. The councillors criticized the lack of candour in the submitted plans. They also insisted on expanding the grounds for refusal to include the issues of noise and disorder from Oceandiva clients, especially those disembarking late at night after hours of partying.

Oliver Sells QC: “This is an entirely self-centred commercial proposal of the worst kind that does nothing for the City as a whole … There is no candour, no openness, no clarity – and therefore there should be no acceptance of this application.”

City of London Corporation Planning
and Transportation Committee 6.10.20.

WHY ARE PEOPLE UPSET ABOUT THE OCEANDIVA?

Many river residents consider the Oceandiva the wrong vessel for the Thames. People worry that it is too big, making the river more risky for other vessels.

The Oceandiva’s appearance is frequently described by objectors as unattractive and unsuitable for the historic river. In the original petition and indeed in comments in the Mail Online, the word that comes up frequently is ‘monstrosity’.

"Ridiculous to bring such a monstrosity in and ruin the landscape of the foreshore."

Comment on Change-org petition

"An absurd eyesore which will also be a string of accidents waiting to happen."

Comment on Change-org petition

In recent months, worries have also focused on safety. On the vast Oceandiva, any emergency – fire, equipment failure, collision or terror – would be on a scale never before seen on the Thames. Could London’s emergency services cope with, for example, a toxic vapour cloud arising from an adverse event in the Lithium–ion battery packs? Are the old piers and wharves acquired by the consortium safe or appropriate for the Oceandiva’s planned scale of operation?

"Passengers of that number pose a management risk when embarking and disembarking, and on board it won’t have enough staff to ensure safety, so not worth the risk."

Comment on Change-org petition

Other residents have expressed concerns about possible greenwashing in the Oceandiva’s publicity. The decarbonization of the Thames is much to be desired, but does the price for that need to be the Oceandiva? And what of the embodied carbon in the £25 million aluminium and steel construction of the vessel? Meanwhile, the Maritime & Coastguard Agency states that there is also a diesel engine on board, which may be used to charge the batteries. Neither the MCA nor the PLA will monitor whether the vessel runs on diesel or electric power, with consequences in the form of noise and emissions.

The Oceandiva raises other questions too for communities along the river. The Thames needs to thrive as a port facility, but does the Oceandiva represent sustainable and desirable development?

The Oceandiva styles itself as a luxury offering. Should wealthy corporate guests be privileged over ordinary people? (If the Oceandiva were partying on the Thames, only its passengers would enjoy unimpeded views.) Is it right to use the Thames as a backdrop for brand events for luxury cars?

"With the cost of living crisis biting hard across the country and affecting many families it will only politicians, celebrities and footballers who can afford to use this luxurious yacht."

Comment on the Daily Mail website

In what way does the size, design and use of the Oceandiva reflect what is needed to honour London’s rich and irreplaceable architectural and industrial heritage?

What of the vessel’s impact on small craft users including canoeists and kayakers?

What of its impacts on Thames seals and other wildlife?

"The Thames is our inner-city sanctuary. The foreshore is covered in history, and seals swim up the Thames. This monstrosity doesn’t belong here."

Comment on Change-org petition

"It is use of public space for private profit and at public expense. It will profoundly diminish the quality of life of residents and businesses nearby. It will disrupt rather than enhance useful river transport.
Need I go on?"

Comment on Change-org petition

The piers targeted by the Oceandiva are surrounded by residential communities or are close to cultural institutions or hospitals. Residents are concerned about protracted noise from the proposed static parties, as well as from arriving and departing passengers and the diesel generator. Would taxis, Ubers and coaches choke the roads around the piers, bringing emissions and yet more noise? What of the fleets of vehicles servicing the vessel?

"It will just be another place for huge drunk Stag and Hen parties and cause more violence and trouble for an already stretched police force."

Comment on Change-org petition

"Its size makes it a potential danger to other river traffic when manoeuvring …"

Comment on Change-org petition


WHAT’S HAPPENED IN 2022/2023

In March 2022, the Oceandiva consortium announced in the UK press that their vessel would be arriving on in London that summer. The brand-new vessel, they said, would be electric and carbon–neutral.

Again, there was no prior consultation with affected communities along the Thames.

This time, there was no new bespoke pier.

Residents discovered in Summer 2022 that the Oceandiva consortium had acquired mooring rights at Butler’s Wharf (5000 residents) and West India Pier (750 residents) on the western side of the Isle of Dogs. The consortium had also put in for Marine Licences to build high–voltage charging stations at Lambeth, Hermitage and West India Pier, having secured a loan from the Port of London Authority (PLA) to do so.

In August 2022, the Oceandiva lodged an application with Newham Council for a 24–hour Premises Licence to sell alcohol and entertainment along the metropolitan Thames. The Licence application was later modified to 2.00am, with a request to operate until 3.00am six times per year.

Over 1000 objections were received by Newham Licensing.

The application was withdrawn in March 2023. The Oceandiva consortium says that they will apply again for a Premises Licence when the vessel has been certified by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA).

The Oceandiva consortium must, it appears, also apply for Planning Consent for its plans to intensify activities at West India Pier and Butler’s Wharf. It will additionally require revised or new River Works Licences and a Passage Plan from the PLA, outlining which parts of the river the Oceandiva can navigate.

"This ship is on a totally unsuitable scale for the historic River Thames by a factor of 10!"

Comment on Change-org petition

"Brings to mind the cruise ships ruining Venice."

Comment on Change-org petition

"Enough corporatisation of public natural space! Say no to this monstrosity. The river is a healer,
not a capitalist nightclub."

Comment on Change-org petition

"How will noise be controlled? It will invade everyone’s space."

Comment on Change-org petition


WHAT IS THE CURRENT STATE OF PLAY?

By withdrawing its Premises Licence application, the Oceandiva has cancelled out the 1000 objections.

However, the Oceandiva’s plans have had the effect of uniting communities in its path. The River Residents Group now includes people from Lambeth to Newham, and acts as a communication portal for everyone.

The Oceandiva arrived under tow at the Royal Docks on Saturday May 20th and have launched a massive P.R. campaign.

Here a digest of press coverage:

Victory for Thames-side communities as Oceandiva party-boat plans scrapped (London Post)

£25million Oceandiva ‘mean boat’ ditches Thames party plans (Southwark News)

First the Sphere, not the Oceandiva boat: Another planned London attraction gets canned (cityam.com)

Oceandiva: Party yacht quits London after ‘regulatory’ issues (BBC News)

Smart Group gives up on Oceandiva dream (Conference News)

Plans for £25million party yacht Oceandiva to come to London are scuttled (The Greenwich Wire)

Victory in battle to ban Europe’s biggest party boat from London: Residents celebrate as plan for football pitch sized super yacht for 1,000 revellers is scrapped by events firm because of ‘regulatory challenges’ (The Daily Mail)

Who Owns the Thames? Giant Party Boat OceanDiva is Frontline in Battle Over London’s River Amid Claims of ‘Zero Accountability’ (Byline Times)

Fear of Party Giant / English translation (de Telegraaf)

Thames’ largest ever party boat Oceandiva ‘damaged by anchor’ during test (Evening Standard)

Oceandiva postpones consultation and events (Conference News)

Londoners lose sleep over plans for 3am ‘party warship’ (The Times)

Oceandiva: Record complaints as Europe’s biggest party boat moors in London’s River Thames (ITV News London)

Luxury party yacht Oceandiva arrives on River Thames to uproar (853)

£25m ‘party boat’ Oceandiva — set to be London’s biggest floating venue – arrives in city (Evening Standard)

Oceandiva London: The sustainable vessel on a mission to change London’s events scene (cityam.com)

BBC London Evening News, 24 May 2023, (from minute 16) (BBC London)

https://docklockandriver.wordpress.com/2023/05/24/north-woolwich-gets-a-new-diva/

WHAT CAN YOU DO RIGHT NOW?

You can still sign the two original petitions against the Oceandiva.

Petition . The Ocean Diva party boat will ruin the most historic part of the Thames . Change.org

Petition . No OceanDiva . Change.org

Please make aware friends, family and colleagues in other riparian communities who may not yet know about the Oceandiva. You can share links to the River Residents Group.

WHAT WILL NEED TO BE DONE NEXT?

Residents have no say in the certification of the vessel by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency or the Passage Plan to be granted by the Port of London Authority.

However, affected residents can object to the new Premises Licence and to Planning Applications at the piers the Oceandiva consortium controls – Butler’s Wharf, West India Pier and Lambeth Pier.

The River Residents Group will alert all members when these applications go in, advising how to make a valid objection if you wish to do so.

We will be looking at ways to inform the public about the Oceandiva over the next weeks, using, for example, our banners. Please get in touch if you need banner for photo opportunities or have ideas for staging events.

info@riverresidentsgroup.co.uk

“But I like it here…”, by Daisy (age 10)

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