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Russian authorities threaten to shoot Greenpeace Arctic protesters

Russian coastguard threatened activists who climbed on board an Arctic oil rig, says Greenpeace 

The Arctic Sunrise is an icebreaker ship used by Greenpeace to protest oil production in the Arctic (pic: Will Rose / Greenpeace)

By Sophie Yeo

Russian authorities have threatened to shoot two Arctic protesters, before detaining them on board their ship, according to a Greenpeace activist.

Ben Ayliffe, head of Greenpeace International’s Arctic oil campaign, described to RTCC the “pretty long standoff” which took place between Greenpeace’s icebreaker ship, the Arctic Sunrise, and the Russian coastguard that took place at 4.30am this morning, Moscow time.

He said, “Two of our activists were taken off the platform, and we believe that that were threatened with being shot by the coast guard. They’ve been detained by the coast guard, and we’re trying to ascertain what their status is, whether they’ve been arrested or anything like that.”

According to the security services, the two activists are currently “guests” upon the ship, while the coastguard has so far refused to comment.

Greenpeace say that they are currently uncertain whether the activists will be allowed back to the Arctic Sunrise, or whether they will be taken back to mainland Russia.

“We just have to wait, which is adding to the tension as the hours go on and the fingernails get gnawed ever shorter,” said Ayliffe.

“But there’s nothing we can do. We’re just trying as hard as we can both in Moscow and on the ship to make sure we get the answers as quickly as we can.”

Protest

The Greenpeace ship entered the Pechora Sea off the northern coast of Russia this morning to protest against the proposed drilling by oil company Gazprom in the area. Protesters had hoped to board the Prirazlomnaya rig as part of a wider Greenpeace campaign to put a stop to drilling in the Arctic.

This is not the first time the Greenpeace activists have faced the threat of gunfire. In late August, the Arctic Sunrise was forced to terminate its trip through the Kara Sea, which it entered without permission from the Russian government, when the coast guard warned that they would open fire on the ship if they refused to leave.

Since leaving the Kara Sea, it has since sailed through Norwegian waters, and on to its current location.

Nor is it the first time that Greenpeace have protested this particular rig. In August last year, a group of activists, including Executive Director Kumi Naidoo, boarded the same platform in another attempt to get the company to abandon its plans to drill in the region.

Oil

Russia is highly protective of its hydrocarbon industry, with oil and gas accounting for 30% of its GDP. It currently produces around 10 million barrels of oil every day.

Greenpeace’s Save the Arctic campaign highlights the sensitivity of the Arctic region to drilling, particularly in Russian waters, which are remote and poorly regulated, making it difficult to respond to oil spills in the area.

Last year, Greenpeace revealed that Gazprom had been operating in the Pechora Sea without a valid oil response plan.

Ayliffe confirms that, despite the present setback, the Arctic Sunrise has no plans to leave the area until the safety of the activists has been assured.

He said: “Speaking to the ship, spirits are very high, and everyone is very passionate that stopping these sorts of things is the right thing to do.

“This platform is a huge risk to the Arctic and shouldn’t be allowed to drill there, because it’s not capable of operating safely and dealing with an accident in these very remote and fragile Arctic waters.”

Watch the video below to see Greenpeace’s attempt last year to board the Gazprom oil rig.

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