Thirty activists remain under armed guard and without legal representation after the ship was boarded on Thursday. Greenpeace is demanding that it is allowed to contact the activists immediately.
Russia’s Investigative Committee announced on Friday that it is formally considering charges of piracy (1), despite the fact that piracy by definition can only apply to violent acts against ships committed for private ends - not peaceful protests carried out to protect the environment.
Greenpeace International’s General Counsel Jasper Teulings said:
“The suggestion that Greenpeace International engaged in piracy this week smacks of real desperation. The activists climbed Gazprom’s Arctic oil platform for a completely safe and peaceful protest against dangerous drilling, carrying only banners and rope. Piracy laws do not apply to safe and peaceful protests.
“Over a day after our protest the Russian Coast guard boarded our ship outside of territorial waters, where there is right of free passage, with no legal justification whatsoever. This looks like a retrospective attempt to create that justification and avoid embarrassment. We will contest these allegations strongly and we continue to demand the release of our activists and the ship.”
More than 235,000 people have written to Russian embassies and consulates around the world since Thursday evening demanding the release of the activists. Greenpeace offices in over 30 countries globally organised solidarity protests.
Legal experts have joined Greenpeace International lawyers to declare the boarding of the ship in international waters as illegal. Professor Geert-Jan Knoops, an international criminal law expert based in the Netherlands, said on Friday:
"As far as the facts are known to me exactly, the Russian coast guard was not entitled [to board the ship]” (2).
The ship’s co-ordinates at the time of arrest were 69 19.86’N 057 16.56’E, showing that the vessel was clearly outside of Russia’s territorial waters. The ship was also outside of the platform’s safety- or exclusion zone.
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UNCLOS Article 101
Definition of piracy
Piracy consists of any of the following acts:
(a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:
(i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
(ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
(b) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;
(c) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).