Greenpeace Arctic 30 – ‘pirates’ ‘hooligans’ ‘vandals’ or brave Eco warriors fighting to save the Arctic from oil drilling?

Greenpeace Arctic 30

Greenpeace activists board Gazprom’s Arctic oil platform Prirazlomnaya

Dear friends,

Talk about synchronicity. Just when I had decided to write a post on the Arctic 30 pic 3Arctic 30 pic 1Arctic 30 pic 2Arctic 30 behind barsArctic 30 those brave eco warriors who are now languishing in prison in Russia, I received an email from  AVAAZ asking me to sign a petition to protest against the arrest and imprisonment of the 30 Greenpeace activists. I signed the petition and posted it on twitter and facebook.

Colin Russel from Australia

Colin Russel Australian Greenpeace activist

On September 18 30 Greenpeace international activists – including Australian Colin Russell – took a peaceful stand to protect the Arctic and our climate. Initially they were going to be charged with piracy which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in a Russian prison. They have instead been charged with hooliganism which could mean up to 7 years in prison.

Colin Russell, an Australian radio operator who was also part of the mission. In nearby Hobart his family has joined the global protest against their detention. “He is a peaceful and deeply committed human being, both to his family and to the ideals that he holds so strongly and believes in,” they said.”It is these values that have taken him to where he is today.”

On Thursday 31 October 7.30 interviewed the wife of Collin Russell who made an impassioned plea to the foreign minister Julie Bishop to fly to Russia to secure Colin’s release. A visibly upset Mrs Christine Russell said that she had only been in touch with her husband by since his arrest once since his arrest. She has concerns for his health as he has lost lots of weight due to the poor food and is freezing with the snow coming through the window and sleeping on a very thin mattress that gives him very little support.  In an email to Mrs Russell Ms Bishop said that she could not interfere in Russia’s legal processes. Independent MP Andrew Wilkie was very critical of the government’s lack of  action exhorting both Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott to get on the phone and demand his release.


Alex Harris Greenpeace Arctic 30

Alex Harris Greenpeace Activist

In her article, “Shattering conclusion to a voyage of peaceful protest” Deborah Snow reported “Alex Harris was to have been back at work on Monday, sitting at her usual spot in the heart of Greenpeace Australia’s cavernous office in Ultimo.

Instead the 27-year old digital media expert is behind bars in the far northern Russian city of Murmansk, her empty desk – decorated with pictures of Arctic wildlife – a mute reminder to Sydney colleagues of the perils she now faces.

”She hoped to see polar bears,” her British mother told the BBC. ”She did not envisage this sort of thing would happen.”

Mr Russell and Ms Harris, along with 28 other members of a group now dubbed the ”Arctic 30”, have been charged with piracy and hooliganism following a Greenpeace attempt to disrupt the first sinking of an offshore oil well by a Russian company in the icy waters north of the Arctic Circle.

Map artic seized shipIt has been an abrupt and shattering end to a voyage which started for the group on September 14, when their vessel, the Arctic Sunrise, set out from Kirkenes in Norway, heading for the Prirazlomnaya oil platform in the south-eastern part of the Barents Sea.

The platform, owned by Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom, was gearing up to plunge the first of 40 wells into the ocean bed below he freezing waters, which are typically ice-bound for more than half the year.

Greenpeace wanted not only to draw the world’s attention to the Russian venture, but also send a signal to other energy giants such as Shell which are eagerly eyeing the billions of tons of Arctic oil reserves that are becoming more accessible as the world warms, and the ice thins.

”[We] are here to peacefully protest against the Arctic oil rush, which threatens great harm to the Arctic environment, as well as extracting more oil that humanity cannot afford to burn” posted Argentinian Camila Speziale, the youngest on board the ship, on September 18.

Arctic 30 behind bars 7Later that day the Greenpeace vessel launched four inflatables towards the towering platform. Two activists reached the structure’s base and started Arctic 30 behnd bars 10climbing, but security guards struck back, training powerful hoses on the pair while balaclava-wearing members of the Russian coastguard and security forces fired shots and surrounded the Greenpeace craft.

The two climbers were seized. The Greenpeace mothership pulled back into an area it considered more secure – still inside Russia’s exclusive economic zone but beyond its legally-defined territorial waters.

Any notion of relative safety, however, was shattered next day when Russian helicopters appeared above the ship and agents rappelled onto the deck.

Arctic 30 behind bars 6Ms Harris and two others barricaded themselves inside the radio room. For a few minutes, Ms Harris tweeted live updates before the Russians broke Arctic 30 behind bars 2through the door.

The ship’s occupants were herded into the mess and kept under armed guard for five days while they were towed into Murmansk. From there they were taken ashore, interrogated and split up between separate secure locations. Initially all were charged with piracy. Putin has since added the charge of hooliganism which could carry a 7 year gaol sentence. Despite saying that the charge of piracy would be dropped it still stands.

Arctic 30 behind bars 3The charges, which if proven carry a 10 to 15-year prison sentence in Russia, have shocked Greenpeace, which saw itself as conducting a peaceful protest.

”It is an extraordinary and outrageous action,” head of Greenpeace Australia David Ritter said. ” It is an attack on conscience, a disproportionate attempt to silence dissent, either directly or by proxy on behalf of the fossil fuel industry.”

James Lorenz, local head of Greenpeace communications and the man who nominated Ms Harris for the team put together for the expedition, says ”everyone is really proud of Alex but scared for her at the same time; there is an enormous amount of concern in the office”.

The British government is providing consular help to Ms Harris, who has been in Sydney nearly three years.

The Australian government has sent a consular official to assist Mr Russell in Murmansk, where Greenpeace has a legal team on the ground.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has told Russia she’s concerned about the piracy charge levelled against Australian Greenpeace activist Colin Russell.

Ms Bishop met with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Bali, where she said she wants Mr Russell treated fairly.

The Netherlands has started legal action to free 30 crew members of Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise, charged by Russia with piracy after a protest against Arctic oil drilling.

“The Netherlands, as the state under whose flag the Arctic Sunrise sails,  started an arbitration process on the basis of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea… against what it sees as the unlawful detention of the ship (and) to have it released and its crew freed,” Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said in a letter in parliament.

Arctic 30 behind bars 11A court in the northern city of Murmansk detained the crew members Arctic 30 behind bars 12including freelance journalists for two months pending an investigation into their protest on an oil platform owned by energy giant Gazprom last month.

Timmermans wrote that if there was no progress in the next two weeks, the Netherlands could take their case to the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which makes rulings relating to the convention.

Investigators accused the activists of trying to seize property with threats of violence.

Arctic 30 behind bars 14Greenpeace denies the crew members — who come from 18 different countries including Britain, Russia, New Zealand, Canada and France — committed any crime.

“Russian officials will now be called to explain their actions before an international court of law, where they will be unable to justify these absurd piracy allegations,” Greenpeace International’s General Counsel Jasper Teulings said in a statement sent to AFP.

Arctic 30 behind bars 16A five-member arbitral tribunal will now be set up, and the Netherlands can ask for the immediate release of the ship and crew as a provisional measure, Greenpeace said.

Arctic 30 behind bars 13The September 18 protest saw several activists scale the oil platform in the Barents Sea to denounce Russia’s plans to drill in the Arctic.Arctic 30 behind bars 17

Russian border guards then lowered themselves onto the Dutch-flagged Arctic Sunrise from a helicopter, locked up the crew and towed the ship to Murmansk located nearly 2,000 kilometres north of Moscow.

Wishing to know more of the background of this issue that motivated the Arctic 30 to protest about Russia’s plans to drill in the Arctic, I visited Greenpeace’s official website. It had the stark heading and makes very revealing reading which is an indictment on the Russian oil giant. See Greenpeace’s official website below.


Russia’s ongoing oil spill crisis

For decades, Russia’s oil giants have been polluting parts of the country’s once thriving landscape, often in secret, spilling oil onto the land and into the Arctic Ocean, poisoning the water and destroying the livelihood of local communities and Indigenous Peoples.

Greenpeace has investigated and documented the ongoing disaster, revealing how the oil seeps into rivers and farmland. This leaked oil spreads and becomes a thick, heavy mire, suffocating plants and animals, and forcing people to abandon the area. The oil contaminates food and water supplies, and people live with the knowledge that their once clean rivers, forests and air now pose serious health risks.

 When BP spilt 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the whole world took notice. The Russian oil industry spills more than 30 million barrels on land each year — seven times the amount that escaped during the Deepwater Horizon disaster — often under a veil of secrecy and corruption. And every 18 months, more than four million barrels spews into the Arctic Ocean, where it becomes everyone’s problem.

Komi region oil spill sites

After analysing satellite images to identify spill sites, Greenpeace staff travelled to this and other Arctic and subarctic regions to investigate and document the spills and expose the extent of the damage. All these photos were taken over a three-day period in just one of the many oil spill hotspots in Russia.

 The cycle of oil, corruption and pollution Intensive development work carried out by the oil and gas industry is generally accompanied by large-scale PR campaigns. These are focused on making local residents believe that oil drilling and production are absolutely harmless and will positively contribute to the overall development of the region and its infrastructure.

How much oil is spilled in Russia each year?

Extreme weather conditions along with a lack of maintenance have resulted in a slow but constant seepage of oil from pipeline ruptures. Additionally, there is still “outlawed” burning of associated gas (60% of which is methane — a powerful greenhouse gas). Russia burns around 40 billion cubic metres of this kind of gas annually.

Community breakdown

Indigenous groups of the Russian North, Siberia and the Far East of Russia, totaling about 250,000 people, are some of the most vulnerable groups in Russian society. Their economy and traditional lifestyles are directly dependent on fishing, hunting, deer farming and gathering, so the development of extractive industries, private fisheries and forest industry badly affects their traditional territories, and their right to sustain themselves in a traditional way off the land. Photos: Daniel Mueller/Greenpeace

From the age of 12 till he retired at 72 Kanev Vyacheslav Vasilyevich bred reindeers from the Komi village Ust’-Usa.

Reindeers need wide, free land. Today Komi land is marred by more than 3,000 drill holes, thousands of kilometers of pipelines, numerous roads, paths and oil industry facilities. Kanev says that he had to drive his animals further and further south to provide them untouched pastures. The reindeers refused to eat the moss and the lichens from the contaminated region. The spread of the oil industry makes breeding reindeers impossible and it is no longer a viable livelihood.

Valery Bratenkov

Valery Bratenkov works as a foreman at oil fields outside Usinsk. After hours, he is with a local environmental group. Bratenkov used to point out to his bosses that oil spills often happen under their noses and asked them to repair the pipelines. “They were offended and said that costs too much money.” (Source: AP on location with Greenpeace)

In the oil development area, the spilled oil forms toxic lakes, suffocates the vegetation, penetrates the soil, and seeps into the groundwater. In the little village of Ust’-Usa the people live with the consequences every day. drinking water

Village Kolva at river Kolva and inhabitants. Young unemploied men at the river.

Young people in the village of Kolva have little hope for their future. They suffer from high unemployment, very few get jobs with the oil companies and other opportunities are limited. Alcoholism is also a problem.

The suicide rate in Russia is already considered to be a national crisis. In the Komi Republic, the rates are nearly double the national average and amongst the Indigenous communities, suicide rates are three times this level.

Spring melt reveals oil spilt through the winter

A fisherman in Kolva shows his meager catch. “40 years ago they arrived, drilled oil and just let it bubble into the landscape and the rivers, until the fish swam with the stomach upward. Then we knew what the future would be like.” Fishing, hunting and farming were the traditional professions of the Komi, but nowadays nobody can live off them anymore.Once a good livelihood, fishing has now become a meagre existence for the the people of Kolva village

In the long Arctic winter, oil leaks unnoticed from numerous underground pipeline ruptures. With the rising temperatures in summer, huge amounts of oil are flushed with the melt-water into the rivers. “In springtime it is the worst,” say the inhabitants of Ust’-Usa. “Then you have got oil in the water, in the air, in the food, everywhere. It stinks of oil. The spring is one of the worst seasons.” Photo: Greenpeace/Staffan Julén

Russia’s claim on the Arctic

Lessons to be learned

According to a representative from the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources, “The development of Russia’s continental shelf is characterised by the most complicated working conditions and requires the use of new and unique technologies. At the same time, among the major constraints are: extremely difficult, natural climatic and engineering-geological conditions, lack of infrastructure, remoteness of extraction areas from coastal support bases, and the absence of proven technologies for the development of offshore oil and gas fields in the Arctic.”

If the Russian oil and gas industry has been unable to adhere to regulations in the existing fields — despite having all the necessary technical capabilities — why would we believe it will show any greater responsibility to environmental issues when developing the offshore Arctic?

Previously classified government documents state that dealing with oil spills in the freezing waters is “almost impossible” and inevitable mistakes would shatter the fragile Arctic environment.


German webzine (Greenpeace Germany – in German)

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