Russia arrests 30 environmental activists during Arctic protest

Protesters aboard ‘Arctic Sunrise’, including six Britons, could face terrorism charges

International pressure is mounting on Russia to free 30 environmentalists, including six Britons, who were detained by officers armed with guns and knives when their ship was seized following a protest over oil drilling in the Arctic.

Activists described how they were punched and kicked by security forces as they were made to kneel on the deck at gunpoint when masked coastguards abseiled on to the Greenpeace vessel from a helicopter.

The ship, the Arctic Sunrise, is now being towed towards the Russian port of Murmansk, three days sail away, where it was reported that those on board could be charged with terrorism offences potentially carrying a jail sentence of up to 10 years.

Protests were held at Russian embassies around the world including in London whilst social media campaigns demanded the multi-national crew of the Dutch-registered vessel be allowed to go free.

The Russians claimed that a survival pod – a multi-coloured foam tube – used in the protest over the Russian state oil giant Gazprom’s platform in the Pechora Sea looked like a bomb. The suggestion was dismissed by Greenpeace as “ludicrous”.

Faiza Oulahsen, who was on board the ship, described how 15 armed men wearing balaclavas had boarded the Arctic Sunrise on Thursday, herding the 29 crew into one compartment whilst the captain was detained separately on the bridge. Officers seized computers and data devices in a search of the ship.

“They used violence against some of us, they were hitting people, kicking people down, pushing people,” Ms Oulahsen said.

Eleven warning shots were fired over the bow of the vessel before boarding. The Russian coastguard is part of the Federal Security Service, which succeeded the KGB following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Ben Ayliffe, head of Greenpeace International's Arctic oil campaign, said the protest had been peaceful and the vessel was within its rights to be in the waters which - although part of the Russian economic zone - are open to international shipping.

"In our last phone call with the ship, the crew said that their spirits remain high and they have been boosted by messages of support from thousands of people who stand with them to oppose dangerous Arctic oil drilling,” he said.

On Wednesday two protesters were arrested after scaling the Prirazlomnaya platform - the world’s first permanent, ice-resistant oil rig. It is due to begin production next year.

Russian coastguard rammed the protesters’ inflatables and fired guns and water cannon in a bid to stop the direct action.

Environmentalists are demanding a halt to the exploitation of the Arctic shelf, which is home to around 30 per cent of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13 per cent of the oil.

Apart from promoting reliance on fossil fuels which cause global warming, it is feared that a major oil spill would create an environmental catastrophe in the world’s most remote and pristine region.

President Putin however is determined to press ahead with further exploration. The Russian Foreign Ministry said: “The intruders' actions were of aggressive and provocative character and had the outward signs of extremist activity that can lead to people's deaths and other grave consequences.”

A number of major oil companies, including Shell, have plans to begin drilling in the Arctic soon after signing deals with the Russian state energy companies which hold the licences to the region.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said that the British nationals on board would be offered consular assistance once they reached land.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Solution Architect - Contract

£500 - £600 per day: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Solution Architect is requir...

360 Resourcing Solutions: Export Sales Coordinator

£18k - 20k per year: 360 Resourcing Solutions: ROLE: Export Sales Coordinato...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Telesales Executive - OTE £35,000+

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest developer of mobile...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue