Armed agents—from Russia's coast guard service, its security agency the FSB, or both—stormed the ship of Greenpeace activists trying to save the Arctic region from oil and gas drilling on Thursday, and after more than 12 hours without communication, the 'seized' Arctic Sunrise on Friday morning is reportedly heading back towards Russian-controlled waters while the 30 crew members remain incommunicado and under armed guard.
According to activists on the ship, Russian FSB agents forced their way into the ship’s radio room and inflicted significant damage to communication equipment. This information came from activists aboard the Arctic Sunrise who were able to communicate for some period via satellite phone, but those communications later went silent.
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Director of the Greenpeace campaign to save the arctic, Ben Ayliffe, was both concerned for his colleagues aboard the Arctic Sunrise and outraged at the actions by Russian officials.
“The safety of our activists remains our top priority and we are working hard to establish what is facing them," said Ayliffe. "They have done nothing to warrant this level of aggression and have been entirely peaceful throughout."
He continued: “The real threat to the Russian Arctic comes not from the crew of the Arctic Sunrise but from Gazprom, one of the most reckless oil companies in the world today.”
According to a Greenpeace statement released Friday:
The crew of the Greenpeace icebreaker Arctic Sunrise remain in the custody of Russian authorities following an armed boarding of the ship in international waters yesterday. The ship has now been under armed guard since 1900 Moscow time on Thursday.
It is now over 12 hours since Greenpeace International has had any contact with the ship, which appears to be heading west towards the Russian territorial waters.
Greenpeace International has not received any formal confirmation of possible charges, and the activists have been denied access to legal or consular assistance.
Officials from Greenpeace International were busy on Friday morning trying to determine Russian intentions and actively lobbying for the release of the ship and its crew.
The group was also organizing its members and supporters to attend rallies outside Russian embassies worldwide. They also established this online petition, which by Friday morning had already received over 100,000 signatures, calling the boarding of the Arctic Sunrise illegal and demanding the immediate release of the peaceful protesters.
Russian authorities have said that the Greenpeace activists had what appeared to be a bomb aboard their vessel, but the environmental group was quick to point out the ridiculousness of that claim, saying that the brightly colored "safety pod" referred to was "designed to keep the activists warm" and not mistakable as a bomb, given how heavily branded with Greenpeace logos it was.
The dramatics in the Arctic Pechora Sea off Russia's northern coast began on Wednesday when two Greenpeace activists who tried to scale the sides of the drilling platform owned by Russia's oil giant Gazprom were intercepted by Russian Coast Guard agents who dangerously fired water cannons at the two climbers as they dangled from the drilling vessel.
During that altercation, the Coast Guard fired a series of warning shots at smaller Greenpeace speedboats and the larger Arctic Sunrise.