An alarming message sent out last week by Greenpeace stated that at least 20 activists working to fight Arctic oil drilling were being held at gunpoint by armed Russian Coast Guard officials. The officials illegally boarded the Arctic Sunrise by helicopter, and proceeded to tow the Greenpeace vessel, and all those on board, to a small bay near Russia’s Arctic port of Murmansk. The international team of activists is now being questioned by Russia’s investigative agency, which has cautioned that they intend to prosecute the most “active” members of the environmental justice group for piracy.
The 30 Greenpeace activists aboard the Arctic Sunrise were in the region to protest ongoing offshore oil drilling in the Arctic. On September 18th, two members of the group, assisted by colleagues in boats below, attempted to “peacefully occupy” the Prirazlomnaya platform, which is owned by state-owned Russian oil giant Gazprom. Upon arrival however, the Coast Guard fired warning shots at the activists and proceed to seize their boat.
The Russian Investigative Committee has attempted to justify their actions by claiming that the activists threatened the safety and sovereignty of the region. Spokesman Vladimir Markin said in a statement to the AP: “When a foreign vessel full of electronic technical equipment of unknown purpose and a group of people calling themselves members of an environmental rights organization try nothing less than to take a drilling platform by storm, logical doubts arise about their intentions.”
If this doesn’t seem enough of a stretch, he continued “Such activities not only infringe on the sovereignty of a state, but might pose a threat to the environmental security of the whole region.”
The Investigative Committee has stated that it plans to question all of the activists, and charge the most “active” members of the group with piracy, which is no small matter. The potential penalty under these charges is a prison sentence of up to 15 years and a fine of 500,000 rubles (around $15,500).
The Prirazlomnaya platform is the first offshore oil platform in the Arctic, and the first ice-resistant platform in the world. Production was due to start last year, but was halted amid safety concerns. A revised date for this spring has come and gone with no activity on the platform, but Gazprom is adamant that they will proceed to drill in the region, and the Russian government has the clear intent to protect them.
In addition to the absurdity of potential piracy charges, Greenpeace explained to the Independent that the Coast Guard’s actions were illegal since “The Arctic Sunrise was circling Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya platform inside international waters and outside the jurisdiction of Russian authorities, making the boarding of the ship unlawful.”
Meanwhile, Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said in a statement that “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… We will not be intimidated or silenced by these absurd accusations and demand the immediate release of our activists.”
All Images © Denis Sinyakov / Greenpeace