Greenpeace Stages Global Protests Over Russian Piracy Case

Greenpeace mounted worldwide protests after Russia detained 30 activists from 18 countries over the boarding of a Russian oil platform to campaign against drilling in the Arctic.

Activists are organizing demonstrations outside Russian diplomatic missions and offices of OAO Gazprom in 38 locations in 30 countries, including the U.S., Brazil, France and the U.K., the organization said today.

Russian investigators have opened a criminal case against the activists for piracy, a charge that carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years. Twenty-two campaigners were remanded in custody for two months and another eight were ordered to be held for 72 hours pending a new hearing, according to court rulings yesterday in the port city of Murmansk.

“This is the most aggressive behavior Greenpeace has faced from any country since French special services blew up the Rainbow Warrior in 1985,” Ivan Blokov, a campaign director at the organization’s Russian branch, said today in Moscow.

In July 1985, agents from France’s DGSE intelligence service planted a bomb on Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior ship in the port of Auckland to prevent it from sailing toward a nuclear-testing site. A photographer for the environmental organization died in the explosion that sank the vessel.

Arctic 30

Russia’s Coast Guard boarded Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise ship in international waters on Sept. 19, a day after two protesters scaled an OAO Gazprom rig in the Pechora Sea, and towed the vessel to Murmansk. 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 drilling platform in 2012.

The detention orders will be appealed, Greenpeace International’s executive director, Kumi Naidoo, said in an e-mailed statement.

“I stand alongside millions of people around the world in solidarity with the Arctic 30,” Naidoo said. “Their actions are justified by the abject failure of governments around the world to protect their people from the threat of climate change. We will not be intimidated, we will appeal these detentions, and together we will prevail.”

International Criticism

A crackdown by Russian President Vladimir Putin on the opposition and civil society after winning a third Kremlin term last year has provoked criticism in Europe and the U.S. Ties with the U.S. are also frayed over support for opposing sides in the 2 1/2-year conflict in Syria and Russia’s decision to grant asylum to former American security contractor Edward Snowden.

The activists include citizens of the U.S., Finland, Argentina, Switzerland, the U.K., Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Ukraine, Russia, France, Italy, Turkey, Poland and Sweden, according to Greenpeace. The captain of Arctic Sunrise, American Peter Wilcox, was in charge of the Rainbow Warrior when it was sunk in Auckland.

Putin said Sept. 25 that while the Greenpeace campaigners “clearly” aren’t pirates, they violated international law by trying to seize a drilling platform and alarmed officials who didn’t know who was attempting to take over the facility.

Gazprom has accused Greenpeace of endangering the lives of workers on the rig who were underwater at the time of the protest action.

Offshore Drilling

OAO Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil company, has set up joint ventures with U.S.’s Exxon Mobil Corp., Norway’s Statoil ASA and Eni SpA of Italy to drill in the Arctic Seas. Russia, the world’s largest energy producer, plans to tap billions of barrels of resources in the area to replace falling production from the depleted West Siberian fields.

Last year, Greenpeace climbed the Prirazlomnaya platform in a 15-hour protest against Arctic drilling. The environmentalists had to leave the rig because of freezing conditions.

The ecologists have also protested last year Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s plans to drill off Alaska and in 2011 temporarily halted Cairn Energy Plc’s drilling off the coast of Greenland.

Several countries sent diplomats to Murmansk to assist their nationals and the Netherlands asked Russia for an immediate release of the Greenpeace activists.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.