Dutch police halt Greenpeace bid to block Russian oil shipment from Arctic

Police detain 31 Greenpeace activists seeking to stop Russian tanker

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 May, 2014, 1:23am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 May, 2014, 1:23am

Dutch police stormed a Greenpeace ship yesterday and ended environmentalists' attempts to block a Russian tanker carrying oil from the Arctic Ocean from mooring at Rotterdam Port. In all, 31 activists were detained.

Before the Mikhail Ulyanov was able to dock safely, activists painted "No Arctic Oil" in white letters on its hull, and Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior blocked its passage, flying the same slogan on a banner draped between its masts.

The environmental group sent two ships, plus a fleet of rubber rafts, paragliders and activists on shore, to meet the Ulyanov. The ship was carrying the first oil produced by a platform in the icy waters of the Arctic.

"The fight to stop Arctic oil drilling is one of the defining battles of our time," said Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo. "We will not be intimidated, and we will win."

Greenpeace opposes oil production inside the Arctic Circle, warning of the danger of a spill in a pristine and difficult-to-reach area - as well as the threat of worsening global warming caused by using fossil fuels.

Rotterdam police spokesman Roland Ekkers said police boarded the Rainbow Warrior after captain Peter Willcox ignored orders to move his ship. Willcox was arrested and the vessel was towed away. Another 30 activists were detained for trespassing or blocking the Ulyanov's mooring place on rubber rafts.

Willcox was among 28 activists and two journalists arrested by Russian authorities last year and charged with piracy after a protest near the platform.

They spent months in prison before being released under an amnesty initiated by President Vladimir Putin shortly before the Winter Olympics in Sochi earlier this year. They could have faced decades in prison if they had gone to trial for piracy.

"Thirty of us went to prison for shining a light on this dangerous Arctic oil," Dutch activist Faiza Oulahsen said in a Greenpeace statement.

Stanislav Chichin, the captain of the Ulyanov, said the Greenpeace action violated "fundamental principles of international conventions for safety at sea as well as environmental safety".

"Manoeuvring in the confined waters of a port is no less dangerous than sailing in the Arctic, especially when another vessel is trying to interfere with a tanker transporting 67,000 tonnes of crude oil in an area of high-intensity shipping," the captain said.

Ekkers said the activists had been detained in a room on the Rainbow Warrior until it docked, when the captain was arrested. The oil tanker entered the harbour and moored without further problems.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have prompted many analysts to sound a warning that Europe is over-dependent on Russian gas, with some saying that the continent's reliance on Russia for energy makes it too costly to impose sanctions on the country.

The vessel, which had come from the Russian Arctic port of Murmansk, was carrying oil from Gazprom's Prirazlomanaya oil platform in the Arctic Pechora Sea.

Additional reporting by Reuters