Russian investigators said yesterday they have found drugs aboard a Greenpeace ship that was used in a protest over offshore Arctic drilling and will press new charges against some of the 30 people being held for alleged piracy.
An “investigative committee” said searches of the Arctic Sunrise, which was boarded by Russian coastguards after the protest last month at the Prirazlomnaya oil rig, had also revealed equipment with potential military uses.
It said investigators were trying to establish which of those being held were responsible for what it called attempts to ram coastguard boats, endangering the lives of their crew.
“In view of the data obtained while investigating the criminal case, charges are expected to be adjusted,” said the committee. It added that “a number of detainees will be presented with charges of committing other grave crimes”.
Russia arrested the 28 activists and two freelance journalists who were aboard the Dutch-registered Greenpeace vessel during the protest and has charged all of them with piracy, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
The investigative committee said morphine and poppy straw, a source of opiates, were found on the ship.
Greenpeace lawyer Alexander Mukhortov said the vessel’s American captain legally kept morphine in his safe for medical purposes, and expressed doubt about the other claim by investigators.
Greenpeace said it was surprised at the possibility of further charges against members of the 30-strong group, stating that the suggestion of drugs on board the vessel was designed to “deflect attention from the growing global outrage over the continued imprisonment of the detainees”.
A spokesman said: “We can only assume the Russian authorities are referring to the medical supplies that our ships are obliged to carry under maritime law. The ship was first searched by Russian officers weeks ago, they scoured every corner of it.
“Any claim that illegal drugs were found is a smear. It’s a fabrication, pure and simple.”
“We know that the safe was broken into by the Russian authorities during the searching of the ship. We can assume these are the medical supplies that the Russian security services are referring to.”
Kumi Naidoo, the head of Greenpeace, offered in a letter to Russian president Vladimir Putin to travel to Russia and stand as security for the release on bail of the detainees.
The Netherlands launched legal proceedings against Russia on Friday, saying it had unlawfully detained the activists and others on the Dutch-registered icebreaker Arctic Sunrise.
Politicians in the UK demanded the immediate release of a British man detained in Russia on piracy charges.
Kieron Bryan was working on board the activists’ Arctic Sunrise protest vessel when it was boarded by Russian coastguards last month and has had very limited contact with his family since being one of the six Britons to be detained.
Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, Mr Bryan’s MP, pledged yesterday to lobby for his release. She said: “He is not a criminal or a threat to the Russian state. He is not even a member of Greenpeace. He is a professional journalist working on an assignment for them.”