Russia's investigative committee (IC) this morning informed Greenpeace International that it has annulled the arrest of the ship Arctic Sunrise, which has remained in custody in Murmansk since a high profile protest against Arctic oil drilling last September.
Greenpeace reacted positively to the news but reaffirmed its belief that the arrest of the ship was illegal under international law.
Reacting to the news, Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo said:
"Millions of people spoke out against the illegal imprisonment of the Arctic 30, and today the final member of the group is free to come home. Our ship was arrested during an entirely peaceful protest against Arctic drilling in international waters. There was absolutely no justification either for boarding the ship or keeping her for eight months.
"This whole affair was a brazen attempt to intimidate those who believe that drilling for oil in the melting Arctic is reckless and unsafe. After months without proper maintenance our ship will need careful repairs, but like our campaign to protect the Arctic she will emerge better, fitter and stronger from this."
The investigative committee recently extended its investigation into the protest at the Prirazlomnaya platform by two months, until July 24th. However, lawyers acting for Greenpeace International were informed of the ship's release unexpectedly during a meeting in the port city of Murmansk this morning. The ship should now be able to leave Russia in the coming days.
Greenpeace lawyers were also informed that the investigation will continue in order to examine equipment found on the ship.
"Our main priority now is to get the ship checked by independent surveyors to assess the level of damage since it was seized by Russian agents on September 19th. We will also be asking the Russian authorities to continue guarding the vessel until our crew arrives to take custody of it", said Daniel Simons, Greenpeace International Legal Counsel.
In the eight months since the action took place Greenpeace has continued to campaign against Arctic oil drilling across the world, most recently in Norway last week where activists occupied a Statoil contracted oil rig in the Barents sea for over 48 hours. Meanwhile Dutch activists blocked a second Gazprom rig, the GSP Saturn, as it left the Dutch port of IJmuiden to drill in the Russian Arctic.
Kumi Naidoo, who himself protested at the Prirazlomnaya rig in 2012 continued:
"We will continue to oppose any oil company that attempts to drill in the Arctic ocean. As the world warms and the ice melts this is fast becoming an era defining battle, and we are determined to win it."
The Arctic Sunrise was used as a support vessel during a protest at Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya platform on September 18th 2013. Two climbers attempted to hang a small "Save The Arctic" banner on the platform's side before Russian commandos fired warning shots into the water beneath them and forced them to descend their ropes. The next day, the Arctic Sunrise was boarded by helicopter and towed to Murmansk. All 28 activists along with two freelance journalists were arrested and charged with piracy and then hooliganism. The Arctic 30 were released on December 27th 2013 following the adoption of an amnesty law in the Russian Duma.
On 22 November 2013, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ordered Russia to 'immediately' release the vessel upon the posting of a 3.6 million bond by the Netherlands. The bond was posted by 2 December.