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Warning shots fired as Russia detains Greenpeace activists at Arctic oil rig

Published time: September 18, 2013 19:31
A handout photo taken by Greenpeace on September 18, 2013, shows Greenpeace activists boarding Gazprom's 'Prirazlomnaya' Arctic oil platform somewhere off Russia north-eastern coast in the Pechora Sea. (AFP Photo / Greenpeace / Denis Sinyakov)

A handout photo taken by Greenpeace on September 18, 2013, shows Greenpeace activists boarding Gazprom's 'Prirazlomnaya' Arctic oil platform somewhere off Russia north-eastern coast in the Pechora Sea. (AFP Photo / Greenpeace / Denis Sinyakov)

Russian coastguards fired warning shots to prevent Greenpeace activists from climbing an oil platform in the Barents Sea and to stop the environmental organization’s Arctic Sunrise vessel, which entered the Northern Sea Route without permission.

“An attempt of seizure” of the Prirazlomnaya oil platform was performed at 4:20 MSK on Wednesday, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said in a statement.

“Four boats departed from the Arctic Sunrise, with two of them approaching the platform at high speed and the other two sending a barrel-like object in the direction of the platform. [Then] an attempt was made to climb to the Prirazlomnaya with grapples and ropes,” the statement said.

The coastguards, who were sent to intercept the perpetrators,fired warning shots from an AK-47 rifle “due to the real threat to the security of the Russian oil and gas complex facility and insubordination to requests to abort the illegal activity.”

Two of the activists were taken off the platform and delivered to the Ladoga border patrol vessel, where “all the necessary conditions for them to stay on board were created,” the FSB stated.

The Ladoga also fired four warning shots from its cannon to persuade the Arctic Sunrise – which was decorated with “Save the Arctic” banners in both English and Russian – to abort the illegal activity, but “the ship didn’t respond to the signals.”

After several hours, the vessel finally agreed to follow the commands of the borderguards, retreating 20 miles north of the platform, Greenpeace wrote on its website.

The FSB noted that Arctic Sunrise, which sails under the Dutch flag, “repeatedly performed provocative actions, threatening the safety of the ships involved in the development of the Russian sector of the Arctic shelf.”

A handout photo taken by Greenpeace on September 18, 2013, shows a camouflage clad mask wearing officer of Russian Coast Guard (2nd R) pointing a gun at a Greenpeace International activist (partly seen R) during an environmentalists' attempt to climb Gazprom's 'Prirazlomnaya' Arctic oil platform somewhere off Russia north-eastern coast in the Pechora Sea. (AFP Photo / Greenpeace / Denis Sinyakov)Greenpeace has demanded that its detained activists – Marco Polo of the Netherlands and Finland’s Sini Saarela – be released, coordinator of Greenpeace Russia’s Arctic Project, Evgeniya Belikova, told ITAR-TASS news agency.

According to Belikova, the activists’ initiative was of a peaceful nature because they only wanted to attach banners to the Prirazlomnaya platform, which called for an end to oil drilling in the Arctic.

“Employing this level of force against a peaceful protest ship is completely disproportionate and should stop immediately,” Ben Ayliffe, head of Greenpeace International's Arctic Project, said.

Greenpeace also stated that the attempts to hamper its action “won’t cancel the global movement for the protection of the Arctic, which unites over 4 million people worldwide.”

The organization staged a similar protest at Prirazlomnaya in August 2012. Saarela, who is now detained, was among those participating in last year’s demonstration.

A handout photo taken by Greenpeace on September 18, 2013, shows a Greenpeace activist attempting to climb Gazprom's 'Prirazlomnaya' Arctic oil platform somewhere off Russia north-eastern coast in the Pechora Sea. (AFP Photo / Greenpeace / Denis Sinyakov)
The platform, which is preparing to be put in operation, is the first Russian project in the Arctic.


The country pins high hopes on offshore oil mining, with global majors including ExxonMobil, Eni, and Statoil signing deals to enter the Barents Sea area. Production from those companies is not expected to begin before the 2020s.

But Greenpeace claims that “despite massive financing for Prirazlomnaya, it isn’t able to guarantee safe production of Arctic oil.”

Offshore safety has become a grave concern for ecologists after BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in 2010, killing 11 workers and spewing millions of barrels of oil into the Mexican Gulf.

A Russian Coast Guard ship firing a warning shot to stop the Arctic Sunrise Greenpeace icebreaker during an environmentalists' attempt to climb Gazprom's 'Prirazlomnaya' Arctic oil platform on September 18, 2013. (AFP Photo / Greenpeace / Denis Sinyakov)