William Hague in talks with Russia over Greenpeace activists charged with piracy

Foreign Secretary raises concerns about welfare of arrested Greenpeace Britons

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The Independent Online

Britain will reiterate its concerns for the welfare of five activists and a freelance journalist charged with piracy by Russia after an attempted protest on an Arctic oil platform. The Netherlands is already taking legal action against Russia after the incident.

Kieron Bryan, a freelance video journalist, was part of  a group of 30 activists and journalists arrested last month on board the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise. The other Britons in the group were the activists Philip Ball, Alexandra Harris, Anthony Perrett, Frank Hewetson and Iain Rogers. The ship  was seized by Russian authorities after two of the activists tried to scale the Prirazlomnoye offshore oil platform. All now face trial and the prospect of up to 15 years in jail.

Frans Timmermans,  the Dutch Foreign Minister, said he would be filing a lawsuit to recover the ship. He added that he would use diplomatic channels to obtain the release of the ship’s occupants. The suit is expected to be filed at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, which was set up in 1996 to settle international maritime disputes.

William Hague, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, raised the case with the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, last Wednesday. Further talks are expected, although officials say Britain’s concerns are based purely on “consular” issues of welfare.

A statement from Mr Hague’s office said: “We [will] remain in close contact with all other nations whose citizens were involved, and make representations to the Russian authorities as necessary.” Greenpeace UK will protest today outside the Russian Embassy in London. Jasper Teulings, a lawyer for the environmental group, said the Dutch decision to take legal action sent a “strong political signal and gives us hope that justice will prevail”.

He added: “Our ship was illegally detained in international waters following a peaceful protest against Arctic oil drilling and we hope that other states, especially the countries whose nationals are among the detained, will support the Netherlands in this commendable initiative.”

He continued: “Russian officials will now be called to explain their actions before an international court of law, where it will be unable to justify these absurd piracy allegations. We hope the court will agree with President Putin himself, who has said that the campaigners are certainly not pirates.”

The activists come from Russia and 17 other countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Britain, Finland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States.

The platform, which belongs to Gazprom’s oil subsidiary, is the first offshore rig in the Arctic. It was towed to the vast Prirazlomnoye oil field in the Pechora Sea in 2011, but its launch has been delayed by technical  problems.