Russia accuses Arctic oil activists of piracy

Russia has charged Greenpeace activists who tried to board a state-owned offshore drilling platform in the Arctic with piracy.

The 30 activists, from 18 countries are on the Arctic Sunrise which was towed into port near the city of Murmansk by the Russian Coast Guard.

It was unclear how many of the activists face piracy charges, which carry a potential prison sentence of up to 15 years and a fine of 500,000 roubles (about £9,500). The Investigative Committee, Russia’s federal investigative agency, said it would question all those who participated in the protest and detain the “more active” among them.

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Two activists tried to climb onto the Prirazlomnaya platform last Thursday and others assisted from small inflatable boats. The Greenpeace protest was aimed at calling attention to the environmental risks of drilling for oil in Arctic waters.

“When a foreign vessel full of electronic technical equipment of unknown purpose and a group of people calling themselves members of an environmental rights organisation try nothing less than to take a drilling platform by storm, logical doubts arise about their intentions,” an Investigative Committee spokesman said.

He added that the activists posed a danger to the work of the oil platform and added: “Such activities not only infringe on the sovereignty of a state, but might pose a threat to the environmental security of the whole region.”

Greenpeace insists Russia had no right under international law to board its ship. One activist said coast guard officers hit and kicked some crew when they stormed the vessel.

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The Arctic Sunrise was anchored in a small bay near Severomorsk, the home port of Russia’s Northern Fleet, near Murmansk.

Greenpeace said yesterday that Russian officials had merely opened a criminal investigation, which did not necessarily mean they would bring charges.

The environmental group reiterated its call for the release of the activists, who it says have been held for four days without legal or consular assistance since the ship was boarded in the Arctic’s Pechora Sea.

Executive director Kumi Naidoo defended the group’s activities. “Peaceful activism is crucial when governments around the world have failed to respond to dire scientific warnings about the consequences of climate change in the Arctic and elsewhere,” he said.

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“Any charge of piracy against peaceful activists has no merit in international law. We will not be intimidated or silenced by these absurd accusations and demand the immediate release of our activists.”

Greenpeace is campaigning against attempts by companies to extract oil from the waters of the Arctic, warning that a spill would be highly environmentally damaging and extraction of more fossil fuels would add to climate change.

Gazprom’s plans to start drilling from the Prirazlomnaya platform raise the risk of an oil spill in an area that contains three nature reserves protected by Russian law, campaigners said.

Greenpeace said independent legal experts had backed its claim that boarding the Arctic Sunrise was illegal, and the group has rejected allegations the vessel was involved in piracy.

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The mother of a Briton being held by the Russian authorities said she has yet to hear from her son, engineer Iain Rogers, 37, one of six British citizens on board the Arctic Sunrise.

Speaking from her home in Exeter, Sue Turner, 62, added: “I’m not so concerned by the fine, we can get around that. But Russian prisons are not the nicest places to be.”

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