GREENPEACE has rejected Russian allegations that the conservationists’ vessel was involved in piracy while on a protest mission in the Arctic.
Some 30 activists, including six Britons, remained under armed guard yesterday after the ship, Arctic Sunrise, was boarded on Thursday by Russian officials in the Arctic’s Pechora Sea near oil company Gazprom’s rig.
Greenpeace said it was there to protest against Gazprom’s attempts to drill for oil in the region.
Russia’s Investigative Committee announced on Friday that it is formally considering charges of piracy – something Greenpeace denies because of the peaceful nature of the protest.
Charity spokesman Jasper Teulings said: “The suggestion that Greenpeace International engaged in piracy this week smacks of real desperation.
“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.
“Over a full day after our protest the Russian coastguard boarded our ship outside of territorial waters, where there is right of free passage, with no legal justification whatsoever, this looks like a retrospective attempt to create that justification and avoid embarrassment.
“We will contest these allegations strongly and we continue to demand the release of our activists and the ship.”
The Arctic Sunrise is understood to be days from land, but Greenpeace said it appeared to be heading west towards Russian territorial waters.
Greenpeace is campaigning against attempts by companies to extract oil from the waters of the Arctic, warning a spill would be highly environmentally damaging and that extraction of more fossil fuels will add to climate change.
Gazprom’s plans to start drilling from the Prirazlomnaya platform in the first quarter of 2014 raised the risk of an oil spill in an area that contains three nature reserves protected by Russian law, campaigners said.