In the frigid waters of the Kara Sea, north of Russia, far away from the glare of public scrutiny, oil giants Rosneft and ExxonMobil are exploring the offshore Arctic and the Russian Coast Guard threatened to fire on a Greenpeace ship today trying to expose them.
Rosneft and ExxonMobil are operating in a remote region where the weather conditions are hostile and unpredictable and where it is pitch black half of the year. Winter ice moves through the Arctic with relentless, almost geological force.
An oil spill here is practically inevitable – and a clean up virtually impossible. At risk is the fragile Arctic nature, the narwhals, polar bears, bowhead whales, walruses, seals, and dozens of bird species. At risk is also the planet – more oil, more carbon in the atmosphere, accelerated climate change.
Our future is at stake. This is why the Arctic Sunrise has sailed here, stopping first in Kirkenes, a remote Norwegian town near the northern-most tip of the European continent.
Once a sleepy fishing town, Kirkenes is becoming one of the centers of the mad rush for Arctic oil as climate change and sea ice loss makes it possible to drill in the seas that were once off limits to the oil industry.
From here the Arctic Sunrise sailed into the Barents Sea to bear witness to and protest against the oil industry's feverish activity in the Arctic. The Russian government is enticing Exxon, Shell, Statoil, Eni and BP to join forces with state-owned companies Rosneft and Gazprom to enter the Arctic.
And shortly after the Arctic Sunrise left Kirkenes the activists on board the ship saw the Akademik Lazarev, a seismic vessel hired by Rosneft to map out oil reservoirs under the seabed by firing acoustic cannons.
The sound that is created is devastatingly high – over 250 decibels which can severely damage the hearing of whales and dolphins. The activists protested against the Lazarev for three days, before the vessel eventually returned to shore.
We then set course for the Kara Sea, which forms a part of the Northern Sea Route, a new sea highway from Europe to Asia that has now become navigable because of the retreating Arctic ice.
But Russian authorities denied our ship the right to enter the Kara Sea on three occasions. This is despite the fact the ship is a high class icebreaker and of significant higher class than every ship the oil industry is using to prepare for offshore Arctic oil drilling in this area.
Clearly, it was not the construction of the Arctic Sunrise that was in question. The denial of entry was a clear attempt by Russian authorities to stop us from exposing the truth of what the oil industry is doing in the Kara Sea.
Rosneft, in a joint operation with ExxonMobil, is preparing to drill in an illegal concession that extends into a wild life reserve, home to polar bears and a variety of marine mammals and Arctic birds.
Defying the Russian refusal to grant the ship entry, the Sunrise entered the Kara Sea on Saturday, soon to encounter another seismic ship, the Geolog Dmitri Nalivkin. This Exxon/Rosneft hired ship was plowing the seas close to the island of Novaya Zemlya, one its last passes before oil drilling starts.
But as the Arctic Sunrise approached, it was intercepted by a Russian Coast Guard ship. The crew assured the Russians that we planned a peaceful and legal protest – and that we were outside of their legal jurisdiction – but the coast guard sent a boarding party to the Sunrise anyway.
Under threat that the coast guard could use force against the ship, including opening fire on the vessel, a decision was taken for the Arctic Sunrise to leave the Kara Sea. But news of our protest had already flown across the world, with stories appearing in Hungary through to Japan, to New Zealand, to South America and all the countries around the Arctic.
We will not be silenced. The public has the right to know about the threat that looms over the Arctic horizon and the names and faces of the companies that are taking that risk.
The culprits need to hear the voice of the world's people, demanding as one voice that the Arctic must be left intact and that the world's governments need to act. Instead of stopping protests, governments must finally act to Save The Arctic.
Dima Litvinov is a Campaigner at Greenpeace Nordic.