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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Russia and Greenpeace clash in Arctic Circle

Arctic Sunrise

There is a race to find oil in the Arctic Circle which has almost a quarter of the world's untapped oil reserves. Norway and Canada are also in the race but Russia is in the lead and wants to find it first.  Although they have promised to abide by all environmental concerns, they must realize that the Arctic Circle is considered to be sacred as it is one of the few pristine places left on earth that man hasn't yet destroyed.

In protest, Greenpeace sent the Arctic Sunrise to the area and came face to face with Russian coast guards, part of the FSB, the successor to the KGB.

Activists board Russian arctic platform

The trouble started when two men, one from Norway and the other from Switzerland, tried to climb onto an oil platform owned by the Russian company Gazprom in the Barents Sea on Wednesday. They were promptly arrested and held overnight.  Then while a Russian helicopter hovered over the Arctic Sunrise, men with machine guns boarded the ship by lowering themselves onto the deck with ropes.  They marched everyone out at gunpoint and made them lie on the deck.

While this was going on, two Aussies raced to the radio room, locked themselves in and managed to send an SOS before the Russians kicked the door down.  Then the whole crew were locked in the mess and the captain was charged with a number of offences, including terrorism.

Russian coastguard ship

The Arctic Sunrise is being towed back to Murmansk, about 1485 kilometres north of Moscow, which will take around three days.

We know Greenpeace can be quite aggressive against Japanese whalers but the Russians sure don't muck about.  The coastguards wore balaclavas, fired over 20 warning shots and slashed activists inflatable boats with knives.

There are only two Australians among the 29 crew, the two who sent the SOS - 59 year old radio officer Colin Russell from Tasmania and British born Ms Alex Harris, who works at Greenpeace in Sydney.

Alex Harris from Sydney

Russia is really upset and said the two men could have caused an environmental disaster.  The oil platform is in Russia's exclusive zone and carrying out illegal scientific research in that zone is illegal.  A senior FSB official said they found electronic equipment and other evidence on board that proved they were carrying out illegal research and Greenpeace thinks this will be the charge brought against them. Piracy charges are also being considered.

Tasmanian Colin Russell 

Gazprom described the oil field the Prirazlomnaya will tap into as an essential part of its oil business development strategy and will start production is 2014.

Protests are being organized outside Gazprom's offices in Moscow and the Russian Consulate in Sydney.