Image (c) Greenpeace

A Greenpeace activist scales OAO Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya drilling platform in the Pechora Sea on September 18. Image (c) Greenpeace

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By Steve Gutterman

MOSCOW, Oct 2 (Reuters) – Russia charged Greenpeace activists with piracy on Wednesday over a demonstration last month against Arctic oil drilling, a charge that could bring long prison terms for a protest in a region the Kremlin sees as a key to future prosperity.

The federal Investigative Committee said authorities had begun charging the 30 people from 18 countries arrested after two Greenpeace activists tried to scale the Prirazlomnaya oil platform, which plays a crucial role in Russia’s effort to mine Arctic resources.

By evening, 14 people had been charged with piracy, Greenpeace said, including activists and icebreaking ship crew from Argentina, Britain, Finland, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia and Ukraine, as well as a dual U.S.-Swedish citizen and a British videographer who documented the protest.

Greenpeace said the piracy charge, which carries a jail term of up to 15 years, was absurd. Talking tough, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said concern for the environment did not justify breaking the law.

“It is an extreme and disproportionate charge,” said Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo.

“A charge of piracy is being laid against men and women whose only crime is to be possessed of a conscience. This is an outrage and represents nothing less than an assault on the very principle of peaceful protest.”

Medvedev countered the argument in comments at a meeting on offshore oil extraction in the Caspian Sea in the southern city of Astrakhan.

“Concern for the environment must not be a cloak for illegal actions, no matter how high-minded the principles motivating participants,” Medvedev said.

A court in the northern city of Murmansk, a port city north of the Arctic circle, last week ordered all 30 people who had been aboard the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise to be held in custody for two months pending further investigation.

The environmental group said the protest at the platform owned by state-controlled energy company Gazprom was peaceful and posed no threat, and that piracy charges have no merit in international or Russian law.

Prirazlomnaya, Russia’s first offshore oil rig in the Arctic, is slated to start operating by the end of the year and is expected to reach peak production of 6 million tonnes per year (120,000 barrels per day) in 2019.

Greenpeace says scientific evidence shows any oil spill from Prirazlomnaya, in the Pechora Sea, would affect more than 3,000 miles (4,800 km) of Russia’s northern coastline.

Russia, whose slowing economy is heavily reliant on income from energy exports, hopes Arctic oil and gas will help fuel future growth.

Putin, who has not ruled out seeking a fourth presidential term in 2018, has described Arctic shipping and development as priorities and last month announced plans to reopen a Soviet-era military base in the region.

Naidoo called Russia’s treatment of the protesters “the most serious threat to Greenpeace’s peaceful environmental activism” since its ship Rainbow Warrior was bombed and sunk while in port in New Zealand in 1985, when the group was protesting French nuclear testing in the Pacific.

Former Rainbow Warrior captain Peter Willcox, an American, captained the Arctic Sunrise during the protest and was among the 30 people being held in detention in Murmansk.

President Vladimir Putin said last week that the protesters were clearly not pirates, but had violated international law.

(c) 2013 Thomson Reuters

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  • The Usual Suspect

    “The piracy charges, which Greenpeace said were absurd, are punishable by up to 15 years in prison.” Absurd is telling the legal entity, in this case the Russian Government, that the charges are absurd. I guess the pirates will have 15 years to think about it. Remember, if you break the law and get caught, you will have to pay a price. Note to Greenpeace: You are not in Kansas anymore.

    • Alan

      Your argument is terrible. So if you committed, let’s say, a burglary, you’d readily accept being charged for murder since, in fact, you did commit a crime and it would be “absurd” for you to claim that said legal entity should just charge you for burgarly (and not murder) because you are the idiot who committed a crime. You should just blame yourself and accept whatever’s coming to you, right? You sound like world-class twat!

      • JAD

        Alan,

        Maritime Law is different.
        No need to call names here, it is a forum of discussion.
        You should study before you judge.

        • Alan

          JAD, Nowhere in Usual Suspect’s post were the merits of the piracy charge argued. He only offered a half-assed “if you can’t pay the time, don’t do the crime” sort of theme. Also, something about Kansas. I have had classes on maritime law on the Master’s level but I admit, not so much in the subject of piracy. Since you are so enlightened about it please educate me.

          • The Usual Suspect

            Yes Alan, if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. It is a statement about taking responsibility for one’s actions. It is sorry that I have to explain something that basic to you, but it is what it is and you are what you are. The allusion to not being in Kansas anymore( I guess I have to explain this to you, too)is based on the movie The Wizard of Oz in which a young girl, Dorothy, is transported from drab and dreary Kansas to the Land of Oz. It is a statement of contrast. I was contrasting the treatment that the Greenpeace pirates thought they would receive (USA, New Zealand, etc.) vice the treatment they are receiving (Russia). I apologize for putting something out there that was abstract and over your head. Have a nice day. Oh, and thanks for calling me names – it really becomes you.

    • Alan

      Usual,
      I agree that they obviously have done something illegal but don’t necessarily agree with the charge of piracy. Maybe you should try to understand the crux of the argument here which is whether or not that is the appropriate charge. I presume that if you committed a crime you would only want to be charged with the crime for which you are actually guilty of and nothing beyond that, right? You either cannot or don’t want to try to make the case for piracy.

      • The Usual Suspect

        You just don’t seem to grasp the obvious. It is up to the Russians to proffer the charge and the onus is on Greenpeace to defend against it. They need to understand that they are dealing with the law as interpreted in Russia and not a representative republic or a democracy. I don’t defend the Russian’s charge, but I do defend their right to charge at whatever level they find appropriate under their system of law. If it turns out that they have overcharged, I am certain that they will come up with the proper remedy.

        The case for piracy is simple; Greenpeace attempted to board a floating production platform engaged in lawful commerce upon the sea in the exclusive economic zone of the Russian Federation without permission of the Russian Federation or the operators of the platform for the purpose of halting production. They willfully violated the safety/security zone around the platform. This incident raises concerns about the platform crew’s security and ability to operate the platform safely while having to deal with illegal intruders.

        From UNCLOS:
        Acts of piracy threaten maritime security by endangering, in particular, the welfare of seafarers and the security of navigation and commerce. These criminal acts may result in the loss of life, physical harm or hostage-taking of seafarers, significant disruptions to commerce and navigation, financial losses to shipowners, increased insurance premiums and security costs, increased costs to consumers and producers, and damage to the marine environment. Pirate attacks can have widespread ramifications, including preventing humanitarian assistance and increasing the costs of future shipments to the affected areas.

        • Alan

          “It is up to the Russians to proffer the charge and the onus is on Greenpeace to defend against it.”

          I guess that makes some sense on its face but what I thought we were discussing was whether piracy is an appropriate charge. That GP is trying to define the piracy charge as absurd is an unsurprising action and will be part of GP’s legal defense. In other words, it’s hardly absurd for them to call the charge absurd which is what your original post dishonestly claimed, which I assume you know.

          Also you do know that that UNCLOS text you quoted is not the formal UNCLOS definition of piracy, right? Find UNCLOS Part VII, Article 101 and get back to me.

          • The Usual Suspect

            Alan,
            You’ve mistaken for an errand boy of yours. You provide the argument and the documentation. I quoted from the preamble to the document which lays out the basis of the law. You go to court in a foreign country and tell a judge that the charges against you are absurd. You, too, will quickly find out that you are not in Kansas anymore as you are escorted – and rather roughly I might add – to a cell jammed with people you would probably never associate with given the choice. If you are too busy complaining against the charge, you will miss the opportunity to defend against the charge. In fact, one might argue that overcharging makes it easier to defend. The charge is piracy and that is the hand that the lawyers for Greenpeace have been dealt like it or not.

            If the charges have you so bent out of shape and concerned for the well being of the “alleged” pirates, maybe you ought to quit wasting your time responding to me and write the authorities in the Russian Federation’s judiciary. I am sure that they are waiting to hear from you and others like you. They live for that stuff, you know.

          • Alan

            Article101

            Definition of piracy

            Piracy consists of any of the following acts:

            (a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:

            (i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;

            (ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;

            (b) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;

            (c) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).

          • Alan

            Me, bent out of shape? Your posts (except for one) make you sound like a raving lunatic.

            Again, you keep focusing on the realities of what faces the GP trespassers in the Russian legal system. I’m just talking about whether what they did constitutes piracy.

            p.s. what you quoted is not even from the preamble as far as I can tell. It’s just some text on the UN website. It’s not irrelevant but it needs the context the actual definition of piracy to make sense.

          • Alan

            Errand Boy,

            Try googling “UNCLOS Part VII Article 101″ or something like that. You’ll be amazed.

  • JG

    Prirazlomnaya, Russia’s first offshore oil rig in the Arctic, is slated to start operating by the end of the year and is expected to reach peak production of 6 million tonnes per year (120,000 barrels per day) in 2019.

    So is it a rig or a platform? Sloppy reporting for a shipping news website

    • TR

      It’s a GBS.

  • Theo

    Environmental protesting does not give one permission to break the law. Be prepared to accept responsibility for your actions and pay the price.

    • Alan

      No doubt about it. They broke a law and should punished in proportion to the law they broke, which is probably not piracy.

  • HUGH JANUS

    Best news I have heard in a long time. These Cock Suckers from GreenPeace need to stop doing the awful shit that they do thinking they are immune from prosecution.
    Let’s just nail these Douche Bags to the cross and see where we go from here… Congrats to Russia for putting these scum bags in their place..

    • Alan

      Why do you think they are immune to from prosecution? Anything to back that up or are just blowing hot, smelly air from your mouth again?

    • OMBugge

      Learn basic manners please. There must be a few civilized words in your vocabulary, otherwise why bother to post anything on any web site.
      You are a an embarrassment to any forum you care to post in.

      • Alan

        OMBugge,
        Who are you replying to? I have to assume it toward HUGH with the usage of the word “cocksuckers”.

  • marc0

    Under UNCLOS, “piracy” is “illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship . . . and directed . . . on the high seas, against another ship . . . or against persons or property on board such ship.” Earlier this year a US court ruled that Sea Shepherd are pirates because they fired projectiles and directly endangered the safety of the whaling ship’s crews and risked sinking the whaling ships.

    Did Greenpeace commit any comparable acts of “violence” here?

    • Alan

      We don’t know definitively but nothing as such has been reported from either side.

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