Greenpeace Activists Hopes of Freedom Dashed as Russian Detention Extended

Today the Russian court in St. Petersburg ruled that Greenpeace activist Colin Russell will continue to be detained until February.  The pre-trial detentions of Arctic 30 activists are expected to be extended for a three month period.  There have been six extensions filed with the court thus far and it is expected that more will follow.  The extension hearings must be completed by November 24.  The detainees include 30 activists, journalists and crew members of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise.

The Greenpeace ship was in the region to raise awareness and protest Gazprom’s oil drilling in the fragile Arctic ecosystem by attempting to board the Prirazlomnaya oil rig located in the Barents Sea.  According to the Greenpeace website, Russian Coast Guard and masked agents fired warning shots from handguns and the Coast Guard vessel’s cannon.  The Arctic Sunrise was boarded by 16 agents who detained the rest of the ships passengers and crew.

Greenpeace claims there was no legal basis for the boarding of the vessel which was seized in the international waters of the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) on November 19.  According to Greenpeace, the ship was outside Russian Territorial Waters and the activists were involved in a peaceful demonstration.  The 30 members detained are citizens from: United States, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, New Zealand, Turkey, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and Russia.

According to Russian media the activists were not in the Russian EEZ and they broke the 500 meter exclusion zone around the Prirazlomnaya platform when they tried to board the oil rig.  The exact charges against the 30 activists, journalists and crew is still unknown.  Allegations of piracy, hooliganism and possibly terrorism have come up in the media.  On September 26, hearings were conducted resulting in further detention.  The activists are being detained while a piracy investigation is conducted.  The Arctic 30 have been denied all requests for bail or house arrest.

Gazprom is one of the largest companies in the world and is partly controlled by the Russian government.  The company is the main extractor of natural gas accounting for 17 percent of the world’s gas production.  Gazprom is set to be the first company to drill in the fragile Arctic environment.  Greenpeace, a non-government environmental organization developed in the late ‘60s, maintains that the Prirazlomnaya oil rig is not safe.

The organization is also concerned that Gazprom will not release the full text of its oil spill response plan.  The company has only released a summary reflecting the company’s “worst case scenario” spill of 73,000 barrels for a rig that holds 650,000 barrels.  Oil spills happen more often than the public may be aware of with six oil spills this year alone.

The Pew Environment Group and World Wildlife Fund have published assessments on the impact of oil drilling in the arctic and are in agreement that the current expertise and knowledge regarding the impact of an Arctic oil spill is very limited. The Arctic is home to Polar bears, Narwhals, Walrus and a number of other species that can only be found in the Arctic.  Even a moderate-sized spill in the region would not only be extremely difficult to respond to and clean up, but it would also have devastating effects on the entire ecosystem.


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