RUSSIAN police have detained a Greenpeace ship and 30 activists – six of them British – after two scaled the first of its massive Arctic offshore oil platforms earlier this week.
The environmental campaign group yesterday released photographs of the daring assault on the Prirazlomnaya rig and images of Russian police armed with guns and knives accosting protesters in their dinghies.
Federal Security Service (FSB) officers boarded the Greenpeace ship, the Amsterdam-registered icebreaker Arctic Sunrise, on Thursday and arrested all on board, including four Russian citizens. The activists who scaled the massive rig were also detained the day before.
Last night, FSB officers were towing the Greenpeace ship to the Russian port of Murmansk where it was expected to arrive on Monday.
Greenpeace has now demanded that Russia release both the vessel and the activists, saying they had been detained illegally.
Campaigners protested outside Russian embassies around the world, including London, and a letter of protest was handed in to Russian officials.
Greenpeace claims its ship was inside Russia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Pechora Sea in the south-east of the Barents Sea, in which foreign vessels should be free to navigate, according to international treaty.
In the letter to the embassies, Greenpeace said: “Greenpeace International is in the Russian Arctic to bear witness and express non-violent opposition towards oil companies’ destructive and reckless oil drilling plans.
“Our peaceful protest was met with extreme and disproportionate force from the Russian coastguard who on Wednesday fired 11 warning shots at our ship, the MY Arctic Sunrise, and threatened our activists with knives and guns.”
Russian authorities said they were considering bringing charges of piracy, which can carry a sentence of up to 15 years in jail.
The Russian foreign ministry insisted the Greenpeace protest “was aggressive and provocative and bore outward signs of extremist activity that could lead to people’s deaths and other grave consequences”.
Gazprom, the state-run oil company which owns the rig, yesterday declined to comment on the issue.
Russia has made tapping the Arctic’s hard-to-reach resources a priority, and production from the Prirazlomnoye deposit is expected to start later this year, after delays that Gazprom blamed on technical issues.
It is expected to reach peak production of six million tonnes per year (120,000 barrels per day) in 2019.
The Foreign Office said it had approached the Russian authorities and asked for consular access regarding the six Britons.