Russia yesterday filed piracy charges against Greenpeace activists who tried to climb onto an offshore drilling platform in the Arctic owned by the state-controlled gas company Gazprom.
The activists are on a Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise, which was seized last week by the Russian Coast Guard and towed yesterday into a port near Murmansk.
It was unclear how many of the 30 activists on board face piracy charges, which carry a potential prison sentence of up to 15 years and a fine of 500,000 rubles (about US$15,500).
The Investigative Committee, Russia’s federal investigative agency, said it would question all those who participated in the protest and detain the “more active” among them.
Two activists tried to climb onto the Prirazlomnaya platform on Thursday last week and others assisted from small inflatable boats.
The Greenpeace protest was aimed at calling attention to the environmental risks of drilling for oil in Arctic waters.
“When a foreign vessel full of electronic technical equipment of unknown purpose and a group of people calling themselves members of an environmental rights organization try nothing less than to take a drilling platform by storm, logical doubts arise about their intentions,” Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said in a statement.
He said the activists posed a danger to the work of the oil platform.
“Such activities not only infringe on the sovereignty of a state, but might pose a threat to the environmental security of the whole region,” Markin said.
Greenpeace insists that Russia had no right under international law to board its ship.
The Arctic Sunrise was stormed by agents from Russia’s Federal Security Service — the chief successor to the Soviet-era KGB — during a dramatic helicopter operation on Thursday last week.
The group says the Russian action was illegal because the Arctic Sunrise was in international waters at the time of the raid.
“Our activists did nothing to warrant the reaction we’ve seen from the Russian authorities,” Greenpeace’s international executive director Kumi Naidoo tweeted.
The Arctic Sunrise was anchored yesterday in a small bay near Severomorsk, the home port of Russia’s Northern Fleet, 25km north of Murmansk.
Greenpeace said the 30 activists were from 18 countries, including four from Russia.
Gazprom has said it follows international safety standards and that its initial seismic survey activities were being strictly monitored for their environmental impact.
Additional reporting by AFP