September 20, 2013 11:31 am

Russia coast guards seize Greenpeace ship

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A handout photo taken by Greenpeace on September 18, 2013, shows an inflatable boat with officers of Russian Coast Guard aboard (R) aproaching Greenpeace International activists during their attempt to climb Gazprom’s ‘Prirazlomnaya’ Arctic oil platform somewhere off Russia north-eastern coast in the Pechora Sea. Russian coastguards arrested today two Greenpeace activists who scaled an oil platform owned by state energy giant Gazprom in the Arctic to protest oil drilling in defiance of warning shots, the environmental group and officials said©AFP

Twenty-nine activists from Greenpeace International remained under the custody of Russian authorities on Friday, one day after armed Russian coast guards seized the organisation’s ship.

Russia’s foreign ministry said the activists were detained after two of the group climbed on to a Gazprom-owned offshore oil rig in Russia’s Arctic.

“The actions of the violators were of an aggressive and provocative nature and had the outward signs of extremist activity that could have resulted in people’s death and other grave consequences,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The coast guard agency said that the ship’s captain had refused to operate the vessel and that the ship was being towed to shore – a journey that could lake a few days. Russia’s investigative committee told Russian news organisations that the activists were under investigation for charges including piracy.

A representative for Greenpeace said the organisation was not able to give any update on when the activists were expected to be released.

On Thursday, the environmental group described how 15 armed coast guards had seized the ship, the Arctic Sunrise, after firing warning shots at those on board.

Before the activists were arrested one wrote on Twitter: “This is pretty terrifying. Loud banging. Screaming in Russian. They’re still trying to kick in the door.”

Ben Ayliffe, head of Greenpeace International’s Arctic oil campaign, said Russia had seized the ship without legal grounds.

“The coast guard has threatened our activists at gunpoint and fired 11 warning shots across our ship, so who is the real threat to safety here? If the coast guard wants to protect the environment, it should stop acting as a quasi-security force for Gazprom,” Mr Ayliffe said in a statement.

The move by Russia’s coast guard comes after two Greenpeace activists – a Finnish national and a Swiss national – climbed on top of the Prirazlomnaya platform, the first offshore oil rig in the Arctic.

While the two activists were originally arrested by the coast guard, they were later allowed to return to the ship – a Dutch-registered vessel – before being held with the rest of the Greenpeace activists the next day.

Greenpeace activists have targeted the oil rig before, most recently in August. The organisation says its “peaceful protests” are justified, as a way of raising concern over Arctic drilling, the risks of which oil companies do not fully understand, it claims.

“Drilling for oil here in the Arctic is a grave environmental risk that must be stopped and this is why Greenpeace International is here, taking peaceful action to defend the environment on behalf of the millions of people around the world who are opposed to drilling operations,” Mr Ayliffe said.

“The real threat to the Arctic comes not from Greenpeace International but from oil companies like Gazprom that are determined to ignore both science and good sense to drill in remote, frozen seas.”

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