Greenpeace Arctic Sunrise ship case

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The Arctic Sunrise in 2007.

After Greenpeace activists attempted to scale the Prirazlomnaya drilling platform on 18 September 2013, as part of a protest against Arctic oil production, Russian authorities seized the Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise in international waters in the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone on 19 September 2013, arrested the crew at gunpoint, towed the ship to Murmansk, and detained the crew of 28 activists and two freelance journalists. The Investigative Committee of Russia opened a criminal investigation, charging the activists initially with piracy and later with hooliganism. Since the Arctic Sunrise was flying the Dutch flag, the Netherlands filed a case at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS case 22[1]) and obtained an order[2] for the release of the crew and ship pending a final adjudication of the matter. Russia ignored the ITLOS ruling, but eventually released the crew as part of a general amnesty adopted by the State Duma after two months of detention. The Arctic Sunrise itself was released in June 2014.


On 11 August 2013, the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise left the Norwegian port of Kirkenes to begin a month-long expedition in the Arctic to protest against oil exploration in Arctic waters.[3] The Arctic Sunrise sailed into the Barents Sea and was then refused permission three times by the Russian authorities to enter the Northern Sea Route although the refusal is in violation of international law including the right to freedom of navigation.[4][5] On 23 August, Greenpeace ignored Russia's ban to protest state oil company Rosneft's operations in the Arctic and entered the international waters of the Kara Sea.[6] On 26 August, the Arctic Sunrise left the Northern Sea Route, after the Russian coastguard boarded the boat and threatened to use force if they would not leave the international waters of the Kara sea.[7]

Prirazlomnaya protest, and seizure of the Arctic Sunrise and crew[edit]

On 18 September 2013, four RHIB inflatables were launched from the Arctic Sunrise from its position in the Pechora Sea.[8] The RHIBs carried Greenpeace activists and crew members towards Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya drilling platform. At the time of the action, the Arctic Sunrise tweeted "We're going to try and stop the drilling.",[9] although subsequently Greenpeace have stated that their aim was to hang banners on the oil rig to call for an end to Arctic drilling.[10] Two activists managed to attach themselves to the platform and attempted to climb, despite being blasted with water, while another activist tried unsuccessfully to become attached to the platform. The Russian coastguard fired warning shots from AK-74 rifles and four warning shots from a cannon on board the Ladoga coastal patrol vessel.[10] The two activists were removed from the platform and held on board the coastguard vessel, although it was unclear whether or not they had been placed under arrest.[11][12][13]

On 19 September, the day after the Prirazlomnaya protest, the Russian authorities forcibly took control of the Arctic Sunrise, which was boarded from a helicopter by fifteen Federal Security Service officers in balaclavas, armed with guns and knives.[14] At the time of the boarding, the Arctic Sunrise was in Russia's Exclusive Economic Zone but not within the safety zone around the oil rig, and permission was not sought to board it from the Arctic Sunrise's flag state, the Netherlands.[13] The captain was separated from the crew and brutally beaten, while other crew members and activists were held in the mess room.[15] It is alleged that crew members and activists were brutally beaten, punched and kicked during the forced boarding.[14]

The Arctic Sunrise was towed to the port of Murmansk. All of the 30 people on board were taken to a detention facility where they were brutally beaten and interrogated. In early October, the Leninsky District Court in Murmansk issued a warrant to arrest all 30 people.[16] 22 were put in custody for two months pending an investigation and the other eight were detained for three days pending a new hearing. They were under investigation for piracy, which in Russia carries a maximum jail sentence of 15 years.[6][17][18] On 23 October the charge of piracy was dropped and replaced by a charge for aggravated hooliganism with a maximum sentence of seven years.[19][20] After they were transferred to Saint Petersburg on 12 November,[16] the Kalininsky and Primorsky district courts released most of the people on bail,[21] and the Murmansk Regional Court rejected an appeal against the arrests on 21 November.[22]

According to Phil Radford, Executive Director of Greenpeace in the U.S. at the time, the reaction of the Russian coast guard and courts were the "stiffest response that Greenpeace has encountered from a government since the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985."[23]


The detainees have been christened the "Arctic 30" by Greenpeace[24] and the press.[25][26][27] They include:

Crew by nationality:

  • US: Captain Peter Henry Willcox[18]
  • Argentina: Second mate Miguel Hernán Pérez Orsi
  • Australia: Radio operator Colin Russell
  • Brazil: Deckhand Ana Paula Alminhana Maciel
  • Canada: Bosun Alexandre Paul, first mate Paul D Ruzycki
  • Denmark: Third mate Anne Mie Roer Jensen
  • France: Deckhand Francesco Pisanu
  • Italy: Deckhand Cristian D'Alessandro
  • Netherlands: Chief engineer Mannes Ubels
  • New Zealand: Boat mechanic Jonathan Beauchamp, electrician David John Haussmann
  • Turkey: Volunteer assistant cook Gizem Akhan
  • UK: Communications officer Alexandra Hazel Harris, 2nd engineer Iain Rogers
  • Ukraine: Cook Ruslan Yakushev [28]

Activists by nationality:

  • Argentina: Activist Camila Speziale
  • Finland: Activist Sini Saarela
  • Netherlands: Campaigner Faiza Oulahsen
  • Poland: Activist Tomasz Dziemianczuk
  • Russia: Spokesman Roman Dolgov, Dr Yekaterina Zaspa, press officer Andrei Allahverdov
  • Sweden: Campaigner Dima Litvinov
  • Switzerland: Activist Marco Weber
  • UK: logistics co-ordinator Frank Hewetson, activist Anthony Perrett, activist Philip Ball

Non-activists and journalists by nationality:

  • UK: Videographer and journalist Kieron Bryan
  • Russia: Photographer Denis Sinyakov


Rally in support of arrested photographer Denis Sinyakov

One of the jailed people is the award-winning Russian photographer Denis Sinyakov, whose jailing led to protests by the Russian Union of Journalists and the international group Reporters Without Borders.[6] According to Alexei Simonov, head of Glasnost Defense Foundation, a Moscow-based rights group, Sinyakov was only covering the actions of Greenpeace activists in the Barents Sea and has nothing to do with the group's agenda, saying: "The authorities violated all norms and laws by keeping Sinyakov in prison ... I must say it again and again that Russian justice system is designed by the Kremlin not to look for real culprits to be punished but to punish and scare those who don't suit the authorities."[29] Sinyakov posted on his Facebook account an image of a hooded Russian coast guardsman pointing a handgun at the boat. When the first two activists were detained, Sinyakov wrote: "I call upon you to join the struggle for freeing these activists, who sincerely see Arctic exploration as malignant." He was subsequently detained.[citation needed] The top trans-Atlantic security and rights group, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, also demanded Sinyakov's immediate release. Several Russian media outlets, including the site and a private but Kremlin-friendly[citation needed] national TV station, NTV, took all pictures off their websites in a show of solidarity with the jailed photographer.[18] In Paris, a few dozen Greenpeace activists protested in front of the Russian Embassy on 27 September, waving banners with images of the incarcerated activists and the word "FREE" written over them. Up to 22 November, Russian court released all but one of the Greenpeace campaigners against bail (paid by Greenpeace) with the condition the campaigners could not leave Russia.[30]

As flag state for the Arctic Sunrise, the Netherlands asked for immediate release of the ship and shipmates to Dutch authorities. The Dutch government argues that since the ship was outside Russian territorial waters and outside the (500 meter) safety zone around the oil rig, it was in open sea, and hence outside Russian sovereign rights and jurisdiction. According to nautical law any actions against a ship in open sea can only be conducted after agreement with the flag state. Hence the Dutch take the position the capture of the Arctic Sunrise by Russia was not legal. After Russia did not release the ship the Netherlands filed a formal case to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea 21. October to order Russia to release a Greenpeace ship and the activists who were on board.[31] However, Russian government announced that it will not participate in the hearings, pointing out that back in 1997, when it ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, it refused to acknowledge the settlement procedures, which result in mandatory decisions in disputes over sovereign rights and jurisdictions.[32]

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has raised the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but says the Russian judicial process must run its course.[33]

Eleven Nobel prize-winners have written to Vladimir Putin asking the Russian president to drop charges against Greenpeace activists and journalists.[34]

Six men broke in Greenpeace office in Murmansk and stole materials.[35][relevant? ]

Legal cases against Russia[edit]

On 22 November 2013 the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ruled that the campaigners and the ship should be immediately released, and should be allowed to leave the country, against a bail of 3.5 Million Euro.[36] On 14 August 2015 the international Permanent Court of Arbitration unanimously ruled that Russia had acted in breach of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and has to compensate the Dutch government (flag state of the ship) for damages to the ship.[37] The tribunal ruled that actions of Greenpeace could not be labelled as piracy or hooliganism; reasons Russia had given for capturing the ship.[38] Russia, a partner of the permanent court of arbitration, responded by stating it does not recognize the authority of the court in this case.[39]

Greenpeace announcements[edit]

Vigil for the release of the Arctic 30 in front of the Russian embassy in Berlin

According to Greenpeace, charges of piracy against peaceful activists have no merit in international law. Greenpeace rejected the suggestion of illegal drugs on the Arctic Sunrise. Certain pharmaceutical drugs are kept in a safe. The Russian authorities broke the safe after they took the vessel.[40]

Phil Radford, executive director of Greenpeace USA, argues that the arrest of the Arctic 30 is the stiffest response that Greenpeace has encountered from a government since the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior by the French secret service in 1985.[23]

Greenpeace activists continue to call for governments to save the arctic, the original motivation for the protest.

According to Dutch Greenpeace members, the condition of the Greenpeace ship worsened during its stay in Murmansk, as the Russian officials are not taking proper care of the vessel.[41]

International reaction[edit]

11 Nobel peace laureates wrote to Putin, calling on him to drop the "excessive" charges of piracy:

German chancellor Angela Merkel expressed concerns about the arrest of the Greenpeace activists to Vladimir Putin, and urged a swift resolution of the case.[43]

William Hague, the foreign secretary UK, has been negotiating with Russian ministers over the fate of the six British nationals involved.[44]

According to Julia Marton-Lefevre, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature oil and gas exploring in the Arctic would have drastic consequences and the world should find low-carbon sources of energy.[44]

Damon Albarn of Blur showed a poster of Frank Hewetson during the band's concert in Santiago, Chile, on 7 November, asking for him to be freed.

Dropping of charges under amnesty law[edit]

The 30 activists were all released from prison due to an amnesty in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Russia's post-Soviet constitution.[45][46]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Rawer, Daniel, Greenpeace, 12 August 2013.
  4. ^ "Russia shuts Greenpeace out of Arctic Sea route, stifles criticism of oil industry", Greenpeace, 21 August 2013.
  5. ^ Rashini Suriyaarachchi "Defending the Arctic even as Russia threatens to use force", Greenpeace, 26 August 2013.
  6. ^ a b c "Greenpeace Ship Sails to Arctic Kara Sea Despite Ban", RIA Novosti, 24 August 2013.
  7. ^ "Russians Force Greenpeace Ship to Leave Kara Sea", Environment News Service, 26 August 2013.
  8. ^ "Greenpeace Storms Prirazlomnaya Platform in Arctic", The Moscow Times.
  9. ^ Arctic Sunrise Twitter feed, 18 September 2013 Twitter.
  10. ^ a b "Warning shots fired as Russia detains Greenpeace activists at Arctic oil rig", Warning shots fired as Russia detains Greenpeace activists at Arctic oil rig, 18 September 2013 Ruptly.
  11. ^ "Greenpeace Activists Being Held Without Charge By Russia" Greenpeace assails oil rig in Russian Arctic, BBC News, 18 September 2013.
  12. ^ "Greenpeace Activists Being Held Without Charge By Russia", Scoop Independent News, 20 September 2013.
  13. ^ a b "Answers to questions posed by the Tribunal", 7 November 2013 International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
  14. ^ a b Brown, Jonathan "Russia arrests 30 environmental activists during Arctic protest", 20 September 2013 The Independent.
  15. ^ Wilson, Steve "Russia seizes Greenpeace ship after Arctic rig protest", 20 September 2013 The Daily Telegraph.
  16. ^ a b "Arrested Greenpeace activists to be transferred to St. Petersburg by November 12". ITAR-TASS. 11 November 2013.
  17. ^ Vasilyeva, Nataliya. Associated Press, "Greenpeace To Appeal Activists’ Jailing In Russia", ABC News, 27 September 2013.
  18. ^ a b c "Greenpeace to appeal over activists held in Russia", BBC News, 27 September 2013.
  19. ^ "Следствием переквалифицированы действия нападавших на платформу "Приразломная"". 23 October 2013. Archived from the original on 26 October 2013. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
  20. ^ Rosenberg, Steve (23 October 2013). "Russia drops piracy charges against Greenpeace group". BBC News. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
  21. ^ "First Arctic Sunrise activist granted bail on Friday". Voice of Russia. 22 November 2013.
  22. ^ Murmansk court rejects appeal over arrest of ship Arctic Sunrise, Greenpeace, 21 November 2013
  23. ^ a b Lally, Kathy; Englund, Will (27 September 2013). "U.S. Greenpeace captain jailed in Russia". The Washington Post.
  24. ^ "Free the Arctic 30". Greenpeace International. Retrieved 25 November 2013.
  25. ^ Shaun Walker and James Meikle (20 November 2013). "Three Arctic 30 Britons freed on bail by Russian court". The Guardian.
  26. ^ Steve Robson (22 November 2013). "Arctic 30: First British Greenpeace activist arrested in Russia given bail". The Mirror.
  27. ^ Heather Saul (22 November 2013). "Greenpeace Arctic 30: Britons Anthony Perrett and Kieron Bryan are released on bail". The Independent. London.
  28. ^ "Russia charges all Arctic Sunrise Greenpeace activists with piracy over oil rig protest". RT News. 3 October 2013. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
  29. ^ Loiko, Sergei L. "Greenpeace activists, Moscow photographer placed under arrest", Los Angeles Times, 26 September 2013.
  30. ^ "Russia frees Greenpeace activists on bail | News | al Jazeera".
  31. ^ "Netherlands asks sea law tribunal to order Russia to release Greenpeace ship and activists". The Washington Post. Associated Press. 21 October 2013. Archived from the original on 22 October 2013. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
  32. ^ Arctic Sunrise case: Russia to boycott intl maritime tribunal over Greenpeace arrests 23 October 2013 RT
  33. ^ Key raises Greenpeace NZers with Putin. 3 News NZ. 9 October 2013.
  34. ^ BBC: Nobel laureates urge Putin to free Greenpeace activists, 17 October 2013
  35. ^ Greenpeace: Murmanskin toimistoon murtauduttu yle 18 October 2013 (in Finnish)
  36. ^ "Subscribe to read | Financial Times". Retrieved 6 August 2020.
  37. ^ "Russia 'must pay damages' over ship". BBC News. 24 August 2015.
  38. ^ "Court orders Russia to pay compensation for Greenpeace ship seizure". Reuters. 25 August 2015. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  39. ^ "Court orders Russia to pay compensation for Greenpeace ship seizure". Reuters. 25 August 2015.
  40. ^ "Greenpeace International responds to allegations from Russian authorities". Greenpeace. 10 October 2013. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
  41. ^ a b Greenpeace activist arrested in Russia raises alarm over Arctic Sunrise ship 17 October 2013 The Guardian
  42. ^ Eleven Nobel Peace Prize winners write to Russian President Vladimir Putin over Greenpeace case Archived 17 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine Greenpeace
  43. ^ Angela Merkel pressures Putin over Arctic 30 arrests 17 October 2013 The Guardian
  44. ^ a b UK aims to become hub for Arctic oil exploration 17 October 2013 The Guardian
  45. ^ "Russian amnesty to benefit Pussy Riot, Greenpeace 30". 19 December 2013 – via Reuters.
  46. ^ "Russia parliament approves amnesty for prisoners". 18 December 2013 – via

External links[edit]