In what is being described by Greenpeace as an ‘imaginary offense,’ Russia has charged 30 people with piracy after activists protested against oil exploitation in the Arctic. The 30 charged included not only protestors, but a British journalist and Russian videographer who were on board Greenpeace’s ship, the Arctic Sunrise, when it was stormed by the Russian military late last month.
On Wednesday, September 18th, two of activists were arrested attempting to scale Russia first Arctic oil platform, Prirazlomnaya, owned by oil giant, Gazprom. The following day the Russian military stormed the Arctic Sunrise from helicopters in international waters, arresting everyone on board.
“A charge of piracy is being laid against men and women whose only crime is to be possessed of a conscience,” executive director of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo, said. “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.”
On Friday, the Dutch government stated it would start arbitration against Russia under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea to immediately release the 30 prisoners and the ship, which has been impounded by Russian authorities.
The Arctic Sunrise in Helsinki, Finland. Photo by: Rozpravka/Creative Commons 3.0.
Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has said that protestors were not pirates, but may have broken international law. However, all 30—who come from 18 countries—have been charged with “piracy of an organized group” and could face up to 15 years in jail if convicted.
Naidoo added, “Our activists have been charged with a crime that did not happen, they are accused of an imaginary offense.”
On Saturday, protests occurred at several Russian embassies worldwide calling on the country to release the prisoners.
Russia has been cracking down on protestors recently. Last year, the country was widely criticized abroad for sentencing two members of the music group, Pussy Patrol, to prison for a protest they staged at a Moscow Cathedral. The pair were charged with ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,’ and were sentenced to two years in prison.
Greenpeace has been protesting plans to drill for oil in the Arctic since 2012, warning that drilling in such extreme conditions could lead to an unparalleled environmental disaster. Currently, no company has successfully drilled for oil in the deep Arctic Ocean. For example, after a series of high-profile failures last year, Shell has put its plans to drill in the Arctic on ice, even though the company has spent over $4 billion in an attempt to exploit oil deposits in the Chukchi and Bering Seas.
In its oppositions to companies like Shell and Gazprom, Greenpeace has also consistently made the point that exploiting energy reserves in the Arctic will only exacerbate climate change, which is already rapidly transforming the fragile region.
“This threat affects us all. In my home country of South Africa we are now facing a far more dangerous climate because companies like Gazprom and Shell are pumping money into politics and blocking clean alternatives so that they can extract the last drops of oil left,” Naidoo said last year after he made an attempt to scale Gazprom’s oil rig, similar to the one undertaken this year.
In the most recent climate report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), scientists pointed out for the first time that the world could only emit around 800 gigatons of carbon in order to ensure meeting its goal of keeping global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius. As of 2011, global society has already emitted over 530 gigatons. This means that many of the world’s remaining fossil fuel deposits will have to be left untouched, if governments are seriously about tackling climate change.
The 30 prisoners are currently being held in Murmansk, Russia, awaiting trial.
Naidoo speaking with Bill Moyers.
(09/20/2013) Armed Russian military have stormed a Greenpeace ship protesting against oil exploitation in remote Arctic waters.
(07/30/2013) Rapid thawing of the Arctic could trigger a catastrophic “economic timebomb” which would cost trillions of dollars and undermine the global financial system, say a group of economists and polar scientists. Governments and industry have expected the widespread warming of the Arctic region in the past 20 years to be an economic boon, allowing the exploitation of new gas and oilfields and enabling shipping to travel faster between Europe and Asia.
(04/17/2013) Four young explorers including American actor Ezra Miller have planted a flag on the seabed at the north pole and demanded the region is declared a global sanctuary. The expedition, organized by Greenpeace, saw the flag lowered in a time capsule that contained the signatures of nearly 3 million people who are calling for a ban on exploitation in the region.
(04/01/2013) Warming about twice as fast as the rest of the world, the Arctic is already undergoing massive upheavals from climate change: summer sea ice is thinning and vanishing, land based ice sheets are melting, and sea levels are rising. Now a new study in Nature Climate Change predicts that vegetation cover in the Arctic could expand by over 50 percent by 2050. Although increased vegetation would sequester additional carbon, this would be more-than-offset by the loss of the albedo effect, whereby sunlight bounces off white (snow and ice covered) parts of the Earth.
(03/05/2013) Rapidly melting sea ice in the Arctic due to global warming will open new shipping lanes that will speed transit between northern Asia, Europe, Canada and Alaska but unleash new safety, environmental and legal issues, according to scientists writing in this week’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
(02/27/2013) Royal Dutch Shell announced today that it was setting “pause” on its exploratory drilling activities in the Arctic for 2013. Shell’s operations are currently under review by the federal government after the oil company suffered numerous setbacks during last year’s opening attempt to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, including running its drilling rig aground on Sitkalidak Island in southern Alaska in late December.
(02/18/2013) Few places are changing as rapidly as the Arctic due to global warming. Last year, scientists were stunned when the Arctic’s seasonal ice extent fell to record low that was 18 percent below the previous one set in 2007. But new research in Geophysical Research Letters finds that the volume of ice is melting away just as quickly: satellite and ocean-based measurement have found that Arctic sea ice has fallen by 36 percent in Autumn since 2003. In winter, the ice volume has dropped 9 percent.
(01/10/2013) A coalition of 17 conservation groups are calling on the Obama Administration to suspend offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic after Shell’s attempt to drill there has been undermined by a series of mishaps. Shell’s long stream of problems was capped this month when the company lost control of its drilling rig which ran aground on Sitkalidak Island in southern Alaska. Officials have now warned that up to 272 gallons of diesel fuel may have spilled from the rig’s lifeboats.
(01/02/2013) On Monday night, an oil drilling rig owned by Dutch Royal Shell ran aground on Sitkalidak Island in southern Alaska, prompting fears of an oil spill. As of yesterday no oil was seen leaking from the rig according to the Coast Guard, but efforts to secure the rig have floundered due to extreme weather. The rig, dubbed Kulluk, contains over 140,000 gallons of diesel fuel.