« | Home | »

Free the Arctic 30

Tags: | |

The Arctic Sunrise off Spitsbergen, 2011.

The Arctic Sunrise off Spitsbergen, 2011.

On 10 July 1985 a limpet mine attached to the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior exploded, tearing a hole the size of a car in its hull. The ship, which was docked in Auckland harbour, began to list. Captain Peter Wilcox and his crew of twelve disembarked. After a few minutes, with all quiet and the ship having settled but not sunk, the photographer Fernando Pereira went back on board to retrieve equipment. A second bomb exploded, sending the ship to the bottom and drowning him.

The French government saw Greenpeace protests against its nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific as a threat to its national interests and had ordered its agents to plant the bombs. They had not intended to kill anyone – they had assumed that the crew would remain onshore after they first bomb – but they had certainly meant to intimidate.

Intimidation must have been part of the plan when, on 18 September this year, Russian coastguards descended from helicopters onto the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise and seized everyone on board – Captain Wilcox, 27 other activists from 18 countries, including Dimitri Litvinov, a descendant of Stalin’s foreign minister but a Swedish and American citizen, and two journalists – at knife and gunpoint. Protesters from the ship had previously tried to board the Prirazlomnaya oil platform in the Pechora Sea between the Novaya Zemlya archipelago and the Russian mainland.

The Arctic Sunrise was towed to Murmansk. All 30 people were detained and, on 27 September, charged with piracy, which carries a 15 year sentence under Russian law. On 23 October the charges were changed to aggravated hooliganism, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years. The activists have so far been held for 51 days.

Russian state media say that the Greenpeace ‘eco-blackmailers’ are financed by the US State Department and that their battle is not merely with Gazprom, the owner and operator of the rig, but with Russia itself. Polling data reportedly show that 60 per cent of Russians approve of the government’s action, and 8 per cent consider it too lenient. Eleven Nobel peace laureates called on Vladimir Putin to drop the piracy charges. The chief executive of the Italian oil firm Eni, Gazprom’s biggest client, and the Iranian vice president, Masoumeh Ebtekar, called for the release of the activists. The government of the Netherlands, where the Arctic Sunrise is registered, says that the boarding of the ship breaches the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and customary international law, and has asked the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to order Russia to release the ship and the activists. But the Russian government does not acknowledge UNCLOS settlement procedures.

Russia is the world’s largest exporter of oil and gas. Gazprom, which is 50.01 per cent owned by the state, accounts for 16 per cent of global gas production. The Russian government has asserted sovereign rights to the seabed all the way to the North Pole. The Prirazlomnaya platform is an Arctic-class ice-resistant facility, the first of its kind. The Russian government says it is investing more than $63 billion by 2020 to discover and exploit new reserves in the Arctic.

Greenpeace says its protests are intended to draw attention to the risk of pollution in fragile Arctic environments and to call time on the exploitation of new reserves of fossil fuels. There is already enough coal, oil and gas exploitable at lower latitudes to cause dangerous climate change. The activists’ position may seem sentimental or misguided when you look down the barrel of realpolitik. Europe’s largest economies will be dependent on Russian gas until they can develop reliable alternatives; their muted response to the case is hardly surprising. But things can change. The French government was severely embarrassed by the Rainbow Warrior case and eventually stopped its nuclear tests in the Pacific.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.

  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • UncleShoutingSmut on Goodbye, Circumflex: Unfortunately this post is likely to leave readers with a very partial idea of what is going on. Firstly, there is no "edict": all that has happened i...
    • martyn94 on The Price of Everything: If it's a joke at anyone's expense, it's surely at the expense of any super-rich who take it seriously. I used to skim it occasionally as a diversion ...
    • mideastzebra on Swedish-Israeli Tensions: Avigdor Liberman was not foreign minister November 2015.
    • lars hakanson on Exit Cameron: Europe will for good reason rejoice when the UK elects to leave. The country has over the years provided nothing but obstacles to European integration...
    • Michael Schuller on Immigration Scandals: The Home Office is keen to be seen to be acting tough on immigration, although I'm not sure that the wider project has anything to do with real number...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

Advertisement Advertisement