On the 18th September 2013, the Arctic Sunrise, a Greenpeace campaign ship, carried 28 activists and two freelance journalists to Gazprom’s Arctic oil rig, where they tried to climb onto the infrastructure and form a peaceful protest against the drilling. Instantly, armed coast guards boarded the Greenpeace vessel and threatened the protesters at gun and knife point, before towing the ship to the Russian port city Murmansk. Three weeks later, all 30 of the ship’s crew are still detained in Russian prisons, despite mass appeals for their release.
The Greenpeace activists were working on the Save the Arctic campaign which aims to prevent oil drilling, industrial fishing and resource based conflicts in the Arctic, instead making it a global sanctuary like the Antarctic. Climate change is causing the ice to melt, which has made the submarine oil deposits accessible for the first time. However drilling in this fragile environment would seriously harm the populations of endangered animals such as polar bears, walruses and seals. Even if oil slicks could be avoided (which is unlikely), burning these oil resources would be a major step backwards on the climate change front. Globally, we’re already heading towards the dangerous 2°C of warming and we desperately need to move our energy investments from fossil fuels to renewables. For more background see my earlier post on the issue.
After the Russian coast guards seized the Greenpeace ship and brought it to Murmansk, the activists and journalists were all charged with piracy, for which the prison sentence is up to 15 years!
Just so we’re clear, the Oxford Dictionary defines pirate as: “noun: a person who attacks and robs ships at sea”. The charge is completely absurd; the protesters were not attacking or robbing anyone. Even though the Russian president has defended the violent actions of the coast guards, even he has admitted: “I don’t know the details of what went on, but it’s completely obvious they aren’t pirates“. (Quoted in The Guardian, 7th October 2013, my bold).
All 30 people who were aboard the Arctic Sunrise are still being detained in various Russian prisons, even though they haven’t had their trial yet. There have been demonstrations outside Russian embassies in 48 countries, with people around the world being outraged at the treatment of these activists and freelancers. Appeals for their release have been rejected, and Greenpeace International are filing a criminal complaint with the police, as they’re adamant that seizure of their ship was illegal.
Personally, I’m disgusted by all this. I think Greenpeace have been doing really honorable and brave work, and the Russian government and justice system are clearly being completely biased because the energy giant Gazprom is state owned, and they simply don’t want any interference with its corporate actions.
I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed for these guys.
They don’t deserve to be punished just for caring about the planet.
And for god’s sake, they’re not pirates!