Action at Statoil Rig in the Barents Sea. 05/27/2014 © Greenpeace

Desperate times call for desperate measures. That seems to be the thinking of Norway's Petroleum Ministry, which yesterday issued a highly irregular order in an attempt to bring an end to the Esperanza's peaceful protest in the Barents Sea.

For several days now, the Greenpeace ship has been outfoxing the rig Transocean Spitsbergen, the rig hired by Statoil to drill the northernmost well in the world.

On Tuesday, our activists boarded the rig to protest Arctic oil drilling. This happened while it was still in transit, which means that legally it was classed as a ship. Only its 'flag State' - the Marshall Islands - had the right to remove them.

The Norwegian government came to Statoil's rescue by getting permission from the Marshall Islands to send its troops onto the rig and end the peaceful protest.

The Esperanza then moved onto the proposed drill site, which is located in what's known as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Under Article 58 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), ships have the right to go wherever they want in the EEZ.

There are exceptions to this, including when a coastal State builds an offshore installation and establishes a 500 metre safety zone around it. But this kind of safety zone interferes with freedom of navigation, so "due notice" must be given before it comes into force. Under Norwegian law companies like Statoil must ask for a safety zone at least 30 days in advance so that it can be properly announced.

Statoil forgot to do its homework and filed the application just two days in advance. But once again the Norwegian government was willing to clean up its mess: yesterday evening, it declared an immediate safety zone at the very spot where the Esperanza lies. Of course, this zone has nothing to do with safety. A more proper description would be "get lost zone". History will record this as the invention of the Norwegian Petroleum Ministry.

It will be interesting to see what happens next. Will the Norwegian government reject our well-founded appeal against the safety zone order, take a leaf out of Russia's book, and board the Esperanza in defiance of international law? Or will Statoil lobby the Netherlands, the flag State of the Esperanza, to allow the storming of the ship, even though the Dutch government disputes Norway's right to drill in the Spitsbergen archipelago?

Only time will tell. But in the meantime you can help. Write to the Norwegian government at and help decide how this story ends.

Daniel Simons is Legal Counsel, Campaigns and Actions at Greenpeace International.