Russia: Greenpeace Ship Seized, Stormed by Guards; Activists Held

Friday, 20 Sep 2013 01:41 PM

By Michael Mullins

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Russia seized a Greenpeace ship in the Arctic on Thursday, holding a reported 30 activists at gunpoint to stop the environmental organization's vessel from continuing its protest against oil exploration on the Arctic shelf.

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The armed security officers stormed Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise icebreaker after several environmental activists had on Wednesday attempted to scale an oil platform from the ship for an apparent second time. The oil rig is owned by the Moscow-headquartered energy giant Gazprom.

According to Greenpeace, the Russian security officers were wearing balaclavas – ski masks that cover the whole head except for the eyes – and had fired more than 20 shots while boarding the ship. They also apparently slashed the activists' inflatable boats with knives during the seizure, the Agence France-Presse reported.

One of the captive activists, 26-year-old Faiza Oulahsen, managed to covertly call France's AFP news service from within the ship's mess hall on Thursday, claiming that he and 29 other crew members were being held by 10 to 12 security officers at gunpoint.

The captain was reportedly kept away from the rest of the crew in a separate part of the ship.

"No one has been hurt, and spirits are high," Greenpeace wrote on Twitter immediately following the raid, AFP noted. "The crew is however not in control of the ship at this point."

According to Greenpeace, the security personnel were lowered onto the ship via ropes from Russian coastguard helicopters while the vessel was in international waters, the BBC reported.

Russian coastguards are part of the FSB security service, the successor to the KGB, AFP noted.

Defending the action, Russia's Foreign Ministry claimed Greenpeace's behavior "threatened people's lives and could lead to environmental catastrophe in the Arctic."

The foreign ministry subsequently summoned the Dutch ambassador Ron van Dartel to Moscow, where the ministry counter-protested the activists' actions against the oil rig, characterizing them as being "aggressive and provocative ... extremist activity."

Though formed in Vancouver, Canada, Greenpeace is presently headquartered in Amsterdam.

The Arctic Sunrise is now expected to be taken to the Russian port of Murmansk, the AFP reported.

Demanding that its 30-member crew be released, the environmental activist group defended their actions against Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya platform, claiming that it will be "an Arctic disaster waiting to happen," the BBC reported.

The Prirazlomnaya platform is expected to begin drilling in 2014.

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Related stories:

Greenpeace Ship Defies Russia in Arctic Oil Drilling Protest

Greenpeace Activists Occupy French Nuclear Plant

Greenpeace Co-founder Slams Extinction Scare Study

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