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Last updated: August 26, 2013 4:42 pm
Greenpeace’s icebreaker is to leave Arctic waters after the environmental group claimed Russian authorities threatened to use force against it.
The Arctic Sunrise was on Monday afternoon leaving the Kara Sea and anArctic shipping route after the Russian coast guard said it had entered the area illegally and warned it would use force if necessary, Greenpeace said.
It marks the end of a three-day incursion by Greenpeace into the NorthernSea Route to protest against Arctic oil exploration by Rosneft and ExxonMobil.
Four members of Russia’s coast guard carried out a “mandatory inspection” of the boat earlier on Monday, shortly after Greenpeace launched inflatable boats with banners reading “Save The Arctic” near a Rosneft exploration vessel.
Greenpeace said it would call on the Dutch government – where the icebreaker is registered – to consider a legal complaint about Russia’s alleged violation of the international law of the sea, and freedom of expression.
Russia had turned down three requests from Greenpeace for permission to enter the Northern Sea Route – a new potential transit for Asia-Europe trade – saying that the width of the ice belt was insufficient.
The Northern Sea Route, controlled by Russia, is seen as an increasingly interesting shipping alternative in the long term for Asia-Europe trade. But for the next decade or so, most experts believe it will be most useful in allowing Russia to export any oil or gas it is able to extract from sites close to its Arctic shoreline.
Rosneft and Exxon have started testing in the Kara Sea. Rosneft on Wednesday reportedly offered to buy Greenpeace a television set as TV programmes could give the environmental group objective information about Rosneft’s intentions.
Christy Ferguson, a Greenpeace campaigner on board the Arctic Sunrise, warned of the damage an oil spill could cause in the remote area. “If an accident happens here it will cause irreparable harm to the entire region. There is no proven method for dealing with an oil spill in icy conditions, and cold water stops the oil breaking down for many years. Polar bears, walruses and rare creatures like the narwhal will lose their habitat and this place would be devastated.”
Greenpeace says Russia’s refusal to grant it permission was contrary to international law, while it claimed drilling in the Arctic national park was against Russia’s environmental laws.
Russia’s ministry of transport on Wednesday justified denying the icebreaker permission, by saying Greenpeace had not provided information about the width of the vessel’s protective ice belt.
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