Moscow has decided to drop the piracy charges against the 30 Greenpeace activists who were aboard the Arctic Sunrise, but has instead replaced the charges with hooliganism. Hooliganism carries a maximum penalty of seven years, while piracy has a maximum penalty of fifteen. Greenpeace asserts that the penalties of the new charges are still “wildly disproportionate”.
On September 18, 2013, Greenpeace activists on a research vessel called the Arctic Sunrise climbed onto the Prirazlomnaya oil rig in the Barents Sea, Russia, to protest drilling in the Arctic.
The Arctic Sunrise is a research vessel with a flying dove flanked by a rainbow painted on both sides of its hull. It was a Norwegian seal-hunting ship until it was chartered by Greenpeace in 1995. Since then the motor yacht has been busy in anti-whaling campaigns, one of which included a collision with a Japanese whaling ship.
The Prirazlomnaya oil rig is an offshore oilfield located in the Pechora Sea, and will be the first to produce oil from the ice-filled seas of the Arctic, extracting resources made more readily available due to melting ice caused by climate change. It is owned by a subsidiary of Gazprom, an energy giant controlled by the Russian government. It is not yet operational.
The activists attempted to board the oil rig and stop it from working, to protest the risk that offshore drilling poses to the environment of the Arctic. Russian coastguards descended upon them from helicopters, threatening them with guns and knives.
The seizure of the Arctic Sunrise by Russian forces is “the stiffest response that Greenpeace has encountered since the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior,” according to executive director of Greenpeace USA, Phil Radford.
The detained crew come from 18 countries and include two freelance journalists. They were led by American Peter Willcox.
Wilcox was also captain of the ship the Rainbow Warrior when it was bombed by French agents in 1985, killing one crew member. The ship was docked in New Zealand, awaiting a mission to protest French nuclear testing.
Captain Wilcox has spent decades fighting to protect the environment. Green Peace wants the world to designate the upper Arctic as a “global common place” and protect it from drilling and the possibility of disastrous oil spills.
Eleven Nobel prize-winners, including Desmond Tutu, wrote to Russian President Putin last week, urging him to drop the charges of piracy against the “Arctic 30”. The piracy charges were dropped, but since hooliganism still has a maximum penalty of seven years, this can hardly be seen by a victory. Russian authorities have not ruled out adding new charges in the future, such as terrorism and espionage.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that he does not consider the crew of the Arctic Sunrise to be pirates. Moscow is likely reclassifying the charges as “hooliganism” to make them more credible internationally.
All people on board the Arctic Sunrise were detained for questioning and 22 of them are in custody until late November in the port city of Murmansk, where they have complained of harsh conditions.
Embassies and other officials from the U.S., Germany, the U.K., and the Netherlands are working to negotiate for the well-being of those detained.
Written By: K. Elsner