Russia rejects Dutch legal action over detention of Greenpeace activists
Detainees from 17 countries facing ‘absurd’ charge of piracy
Musician Damon Albarn and actor Jude Law join other demonstrators to protest against the detention in Russia of Greenpeace activists, outside the Russian Embassy in London on October 5th. Photograph: Olivia Harris/Reuters
Russia was last night dismissive of a legal action by the Dutch government to free the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise and its 30 passengers, claiming the Netherlands had failed to halt the vessel’s “illegal activity” despite repeated requests.
British foreign secretary William Hague has made an official protest and there were demonstrations outside the Russian embassy in London at the weekend in which actor Jude Law and musician Damon Albarn participated. However, the Dutch are the first to take legal action against Russia on behalf of their citizens, two of whom are among the vessel’s crew.
Arctic Sunrise was detained by Russian special forces, and its occupants, 28 activists and two journalists, were arrested after Greenpeace staged a protest at the Prirazlomnaya offshore oil rig. The rig is owned by the oil subsidiary of Russian state gas company Gazprom.
The rig, the first to arrive in the Arctic, was deployed to the vast oil field in the Pechora Sea in 2011, but has been beset by technical problems. Gazprom announced last month it was finally expected to begin pumping oil before the end of the year.
Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans confirmed that his department had begun the action for arbitration at the UN-backed International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, based in Hamburg. “I feel responsible for this ship and its crew because it sails under the Dutch flag,” he said.
The 30 detainees from 17 countries, including the US, Britain and France, are being held in the northern Russian city of Murmansk. All have been charged with piracy, which can carry a 15-year prison term on conviction.
Mr Timmermans said that while the Dutch government would continue to work through diplomatic channels to have the ship released, it regarded its detention as “unlawful”.
He said he was surprised by the piracy charges, which Human Rights Watch has described as “an attempt to intimidate” Greenpeace. “I don’t understand why anyone would think this had anything to do with piracy,” he said. “I simply don’t see how there could be any legal grounds for that.”
Greenpeace lawyer Jasper Teulings said: “Our ship was illegally detained in international waters following a peaceful protest against the environmental impact of Arctic oil drilling.”
Russia shrugged off the Dutch legal action. “Everything that happened with the Arctic Sunrise was pure provocation,” said Russian deputy foreign minister Alexei Meshkov.
He added that Russia had repeatedly asked the Netherlands to halt what it believed was “illegal activity” by the ship, but nothing had been done. “Therefore, I would say we have more questions for the Dutch than they can have for us.”