Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
New Zealand’s Greenpeace veteran Rien Achtenberg (64) stands outside of the Russian consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, on Saturday. EPA
New Zealand’s Greenpeace veteran Rien Achtenberg (64) stands outside of the Russian consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, on Saturday. EPA

Russia feels push to release Greenpeace activists

Protests planned as the Netherlands launches legal action to free the activists, whose vessel, Arctic Sunrise, was sailing under a Dutch flag. Omar Karmi reports

LONDON // Pressure mounted on Russia on Friday to free Greenpeace activists charged with piracy as the Netherlands took legal action and the environmental group called for international protests.

Twenty-eight activists, along with a British and a Russian journalist, were arrested after attempting to board Russia’s first off-shore Arctic oil platform, Prirazlomnaya, in the Pechora Sea.

The platform is operated by the Russian-government controlled Gazprom, one of the world’s largest energy companies.

The Netherlands on Friday launched legal action to free the activists, whose vessel, Arctic Sunrise, was sailing under a Dutch flag.

“The Netherlands today began an arbitration procedure on the basis of the (United Nations) Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Frans Timmermans, the Dutch foreign minister, said.

Before the move by the Dutch, Greenpeace announced plans to hold protests outside Russian embassies and consulates across the globe on Saturday to the charges against its activists.

The group has called the charges an “outrage” designed to “intimidate and silence”.

“A charge of piracy is being laid against men and women whose only crime is to be possessed of a conscience,” said Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace’s executive director on Thursday.

“This is an outrage and represents nothing less than an assault on the very principle of peaceful protest. Any claim that these activists are pirates is as absurd as it is abominable.”

Russian prosecutors say the Greenpeace action, which saw activists leave the Arctic Sunrise on inflatable dinghies and attempt to climb the oil rig, posed a “real threat” to the safety of staff on the rig.

But experts say charges of piracy fly in the face of international law.

The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea considers piracy “an illegal act of violence committed, for private ends, from a private ship or aircraft… directed against another ship or aircraft on the high seas (or occurring in a place outside the jurisdiction of any state).”

As the Greenpeace action was targeting an oil platform within an exclusive economic zone under Russian jurisdiction, at least two of those conditions are unfulfilled whether or not the action itself was considered an act of violence, said Douglas Guilfoyle, a reader in international law at University College London.

And on that point, while, “you could accuse the protestors of trespass, but I think you’d have a difficult time saying their actions were overtly violent,” Mr Guilfoyle added.

The 28 activists from 18 different countries along with one British and one Russian freelance journalist have been detained in Murmansk in north-west Russia near the border with Finland since September 18.

And piracy charges could set a worrying precedent, said Mr Guilfoyle.

“There is absolutely always a risk that piracy can be used as an emotive term applied to a state’s political opponents.

“The risk is that it undermines the seriousness of piracy as a violent offence that endangers the safety of navigation on the high seas.”

Even Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has said the Greenpeace activists were “obviously not pirates”, but they did violate international law.

Piracy has become a growing issue of concern around the world in recent years, not least off the Arabian Peninsula, where the dramatic expansion of Somali piracy since 2005 have caused fears of disruption to the international oil trade.

Russia is part of the multi-national coalition that established the Maritime Security Patrol Area within the Gulf of Aden to combat piracy in the area.

Mr Guilfoyle said Russia would likely pursue the charges against what Greenpeace are calling the Arctic 30 under Russian law, where countries often postulate a more expansive definition of piracy.

Should an international challenge be made, however, that would be under international law.

With its legal action, the Netherlands could seek the immediate release of crew and vessel on bond, though it would be unlikely that they would be allowed to leave Russia before trial.

Thursday, William Hague, Britain’s foreign secretary, said the UK would “remain in close contact with all other nations whose citizens are involved and make representations as necessary”.

Six of the detainees are from the UK.


Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National