￼23 September 2013, News Wires – Greenpeace has refuted accusations of piracy being levelled against 30 activists being held by Russian armed guards on the environmental group’s own ship after an abortive protest against Arctic oil drilling.
The crew of the Arctic Sunrise were rounded up onboard after Russian federal security agents armed with guns and knives boarded the ship last week and took control of it in a display of force by the authorities.
It followed an attempt by Greenpeace activists to scale the Prirazlomnaya platform that is set to start producing first oil from the Prirazlomnoye field, operated by Gazprom Neft Shelf, in the Pechora Sea in the fourth quarter.
The protesters were allegedly sprayed with water cannons as shots were fired by Russian Coast Guard officers, also said to be wielding knives, who intercepted a Greenpeace flotilla of inflatable boats near the platform.
Russia’s Investigative Committee is now considering formal charges of piracy against activists now apparently being held in the mess of the Greenpeace mother ship, according to a statement from the group.
However, Greenpeace contended that “piracy by definition can only apply to violent acts against ships committed for private ends – not peaceful protests carried out to protect the environment”.
The group’s general counsel Jasper Teulings said the purported charge “smacks of real desperation” by Russian authorities, which have previously claimed the activists represented an environmental and safety threat to the platform.
“The activists climbed Gazprom’s Arctic oil platform for a completely safe and peaceful protest against dangerous drilling, carrying only banners and rope. Piracy laws do not apply to safe and peaceful protests,” he added.
Greenpeace has also claimed the boarding by Russian agents is illegal, as the vessel was operating outside of the country’s territorial waters at the time of the incident, and has gained backing for its case from legal experts.
The group said those being held have been denied any legal representation and that communication with them has also been cut off.
The detention of the activists has triggered a wave of peaceful demonstrations outside Russian embassies worldwide calling for them to be released.
Meanwhile, the vessel is now being taken to the Russian port of Murmansk – around a three-day journey – where a full investigation would be carried out, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard was reported as saying by news agency RIA Novosti.