Russia is holding 30 Greenpeace activists for questioning in a piracy investigation after seizing a ship two of them used to scale an OAO Gazprom (GAZP) rig in the Arctic to protest the company’s plan to extract oil there.
The 30 environmental activists, who are from 19 countries including the U.S., face a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison if found guilty, Amnesty International said in a statement protesting the detentions. Everyone responsible for acts of piracy will be prosecuted regardless of nationality, Russia’s top law-enforcement body, the Investigative Committee, said in a statement on its website.
President Vladimir Putin said today that while the Greenpeace workers “clearly” aren’t pirates, they violated international law by trying to seize a drilling platform. The action alarmed Russian officials, who couldn’t be certain who was trying to board the rig, Putin said at an Arctic energy conference in Salekhard, the closest town to the Polar Circle.
“Especially against the background of the bloody events that happened in Kenya, everything is possible,” Putin said, referring to an attack by Islamist militants on an upscale mall in Nairobi that killed at least 61 civilians. “We didn’t know who was trying to seize it.”
Russia’s Coast Guard boarded the Arctic Sunrise in international waters on Sept. 19, a day after the protest, and towed the vessel to the port of Murmansk yesterday. State-run Gazprom plans to become the first Russian company to start producing oil in Arctic waters at the Prirazlomnoye deposit as soon as this year. Greenpeace activists scaled the same offshore drilling platform in 2012.
The activists are guilty of at least “aggressive” behavior, Natural Resources Minister Sergei Donskoi said at the Salekhard conference. Gazprom may receive additional permits to drill in the Arctic shelf by the end of 2013 or early 2014, Donskoi said.
Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo demanded the release of the campaigners, who were sent today to various prisons, where they’ll be held for at least 48 hours.
“Our activists are motivated only by a passionate belief in the need to protect the Arctic from reckless oil drilling and climate change,” Naidoo said in a statement posted on the group’s website yesterday.
The captain of Arctic Sunrise, American Peter Wilcox, was in charge of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior when it was sunk in Auckland in 1985 by a bomb planted by the French intelligence service.
A Swiss national is among those detained, Switzerland’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The ministry, which is “closely monitoring” the situation, today asked its Russian counterparts and Russia’s embassy in Switzerland for “clarifications concerning this case,” it said.
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