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Russia tows Greenpeace ship to port, activists risk charges

Russian border guards were on Monday towing a ship of the environmental lobby group Greenpeace to an Arctic port where its activists could face charges for a protest on an oil rig owned by the Gazprom energy giant.

The Arctic Sunrise ship, which Russian security forces have controlled since storming the vessel in a dramatic helicopter operation on Thursday, is to arrive in the Russian Far Northern port of Murmansk on Tuesday, the group and officials said.

Thirty activists from the group, including four Russians, are on board the vessel. Russia’s powerful Investigative Committee said the crew may have committed piracy, which carries a prison term of up to 15 years in Russia.

“It’s looking like a Tuesday morning arrival. The ship has slowed down, due to weather conditions we believe,” a Greenpeace spokesman told AFP.

A Russian security source quoted by the Interfax news agency also said that the ship was expected in Murmansk on Tuesday, without giving a time.

The Russian authorities said that the Arctic Sunrise was attached to a Russian tugboat to be taken into Murmansk after the captain refused to steer it himself.

Two Greenpeace activists from Finland and Switzerland had climbed up the side of Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya oil platform in the Barents Sea in the Russian Arctic early Wednesday to protest its oil drilling in a hugely sensitive environment.

The two activists were detained after warning shots were fired although they were later taken back to the Dutch-flagged Arctic Sunrise where the entire crew was placed under arrest and locked up in the mess.

Amid protests organised by Greenpeace outside Russian embassies across the world to sound the alarm over the plight of the activists, Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov at the weekend launched a staunch defence of the reaction of the Russian authorities.

He said that the Greenpeace activists had behaved “too radically” for such a well-known organisation and compared their actions to the pirates who have wreaked havoc off the coast of Somalia.

“Many in Russia believe that this is piracy and piracy in the Somali style. And they used boat hooks no worse than the Somali pirates,” he said, quoted by Russian news agencies at a conference in Stockholm.