Dutch call on Russia to release Greenpeace protesters

26th September 2013, Comments 0 comments

The Netherlands has asked Russia for the immediate release of 30 Greenpeace activists arrested for a high seas protest against Arctic oil exploration and said it is considering legal action.

Russia has opened a criminal probe into alleged piracy following a dramatic commando-style raid last week in which security services boarded the Dutch-flagged Arctic Sunrise and towed it into Murmansk.

The ship's 30 crew members have been placed in detention centres in and around the far northern city and are being questioned by Russian authorities.

"Based on maritime law, the Netherlands has asked Russian authorities to immediately release the ship and its crew," Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans wrote in a letter to the Dutch parliament on Wednesday.

Timmermans said the crew could be tried by Russia if charges are brought.

The raid followed an earlier protest at an oil rig belonging to the world's largest gas company, Gazprom, by Greenpeace campaigners to highlight drilling in the ecologically sensitive seas of the Russian Arctic.

Depending on what information Russia gives on the detention and charges, the Netherlands is also looking at "possible legal steps, including at the UN's International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea," Timmermans wrote.

Timmermans had discussed the matter with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, the letter said.

Timmermans said The Hague has asked Moscow for more information to ensure that Russia was acting according to international law in regards to ships sailing under foreign flag and the activists' right to peaceful protest.

The Dutch government has asked Russia to "clarify the legal grounds determining their actions against the Arctic Sunrise, its exact position at the time it was overpowered and why the Netherlands was not informed that a ship sailing under its flag was being boarded," Timmermans said.

It pressed Moscow for an answer by 06:00 pm (1600 GMT) on Tuesday, but received no word, with Russia then saying it needed more time.

"Today (Wednesday) the Netherlands again asked Russia for a speedy release of information," Timmermans said.

Earlier Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the activists "were not pirates" but had broken the law, raising hopes that they may not face such severe a charge as piracy which carries a maximum punishment of 15 years in jail.

Gazprom has built up its oil activities in recent years, and is the first company to seek to produce oil in the seas of the Russian Arctic.

Greenpeace says the project, which aims to start production in 2014, is an ecological disaster waiting to happen due to the poor condition of Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya oil rig.

© 2013 AFP

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