The environmental watchdog on Saturday morning entered the waterway despite being refused permission to do so earlier this week by Russia’s Northern Sea Route Administration.
The group is intent on highlighting what it believes are the dangers of exploring for oil and gas in the Arctic where US supermajor ExxonMobil and Russian oil giant Rosneft both have interests.
On Wednesday Russian authorities denied the Arctic Sunrise access to the route citing safety fears for the vessel to sail in waters which, at other times of the year, are ice bound.
Greenpeace has, however, claimed that the vessel has all the necessary requirements and ice-class specifications to sail in such waters, even claiming that the vessel is of a higher ice-class spec than many of the vessels currently being operated by Rosneft in the region.
On Saturday the group said: “Activists aboard the Greenpeace ship plan to engage in a peaceful protest against oil exploration adjacent to the Russian Arctic National Park, where Russian oil major Rosneft and US partner ExxonMobil are preparing to drill – in violation of Russia’s own environmental laws.”
Greenpeace campaigner Christy Ferguson, onboard the Arctic Sunrise, commented: “We refuse to let illegal attempts by the Russian government to stop us from exposing dangerous oil drilling in the Arctic.
“The Russian Arctic National Park is a special place full of rare and threatened Arctic wildlife, and faces an infinitely greater threat from reckless oil companies than a fully equipped Greenpeace icebreaker.
“If Rosneft and ExxonMobil bring in offshore drilling platforms they will risk catastrophic blowouts and spills that could devastate the region. They rely on secrecy and evasion, but we’re here with over 3.5 million people who have their eyes on the Arctic.”
Ferguson continued: “If an accident happens (in this region) it will cause irreparable harm to the entire region. There is no proven method for dealing with an oil spill in icy conditions, and cold water stops the oil breaking down for many years.
“Polar bears, walruses and rare creatures like the narwhal will lose their habitat and this place would be devastated.”
Earlier this week Greenpeace had said of the blockade against its vessel: “This is a thinly-veiled attempt to stifle peaceful protest and keep international attention away from Arctic oil exploration in Russia.
“The decision was made in violation of international law and the right of free navigation.
“It once again confirms the relationship between Russian authorities and the oil companies. Millions of people around the world want to know what the Russian companies and their Western partners are trying to hide in the Arctic.”
In June Rosneft wrapped up joint-venture pacts with heavyweights ExxonMobil, Statoil and Eni covering exploitation of resources in the country’s Arctic region, as well as other areas.
Tuapsemorneftegaz and Karmorneftegaz, joint ventures between Rosneft and US supermajor ExxonMobil, will act as respective operators of the pair’s proposed projects in the Black and Kara seas.
ExxonMobil is set to finance most of the initial $3.2 billion exploration costs in the two areas, where drilling is expected to start next year, under its strategic co-operation deal with Rosneft, with the partners holding stakes of 33.33% and 66.67% respectively.
ExxonMobil’s huge joint venture agreement with Rosneft came about after a previous deal between the state-owned Russian and UK supermajor BP for exploration in the Kara Sea fell through.