MOSCOW, October 4 (RIA Novosti) – The Netherlands has taken legal action against Russia, saying it illegally seized a Dutch-flagged ship and its crew during a Greenpeace protest against a Gazprom oil rig in the Arctic.
“We’re asking Russia to release the ship and the crew,” Dutch Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Friso Wijnen told RIA Novosti.
The Netherlands has launched the arbitration procedure under a United Nations convention on maritime law that compels the two countries to choose a third party to settle the dispute, Wijnen said.
“If there is no progress, then in two weeks’ time we will submit [the case] to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg for a provisional measure,” the official said.
Russian border guards seized the Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise, on September 19 following an attempt by several activists to climb up the state-owned rig, the first commercial offshore oil well in the Arctic.
All 30 people aboard the ship – including the crew, activists and two freelance journalists – are in Russian custody and were charged earlier this week with piracy, punishable with up to 15 years in prison.
“Russian officials will now be called to explain their actions before an international court of law, where it will be unable to justify these absurd piracy allegations,” Greenpeace lawyer Jasper Teulings said in comments posted on the group’s website.
Greenpeace is planning protests in 45 countries on Saturday to decry the arrests. The group maintains that an offshore spill in the Arctic would be impossible to clean up using today’s technologies.
The Gazprom oil rig, situated on the vast Prirazlomnoye deposit, is due to start commercial extraction by the end of the year, its operator said Friday.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has not yet commented on the Dutch legal action. No one at the ministry returned a telephone call for comment after regular working hours.