MOSCOW, September 18 (RIA Novosti) – Greenpeace activists staged a protest at an offshore oil drilling platform in the Russian Arctic on Wednesday morning, during which two protesters were arrested and the Russian Coast Guard fired warning shots across Greenpeace's ship, the environmental lobbying group said.
Another two protesters climbed up the oil rig to demonstrate against its drilling activities, the organization said in a press release on its website, adding that the climbers have come down from the rig, but the Greenpeace icebreaker remains in the area. Greenpeace said the Russian Coast Guard had fired 11 warning shots across its ship – the Arctic Sunrise, which sails under the Dutch flag – and threatened to fire on it directly if the vessel did not immediately leave the territory.
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) confirmed that the border guards had fired warning shots "due to the genuine threat to the security of the Russian oil and gas complex, and failure to obey a lawful order to stop illegal activity." The coast guard fired warning shots from an AK-47 machine gun, the security service said, noting that the Greenpeace ship did not respond to the warning and that additional measures to stop the vessel were underway.
The activists launched five inflatable boats from the Arctic Sunrise at about 4:30 a.m. Moscow time and headed for Russian energy giant Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya oil rig, stationed in the Pechora Sea northwest of Russia, Greenpeace said.
Two activists scaled the side of the rig with ropes and harnesses and dangled there for several hours. A Twitter feed for the Arctic Sunrise, on which pictures were posted of the operation, tweeted that one of the protesters had been hosed with freezing water during their attempt to climb the rig.
The Russian Coast Guard intercepted one of the inflatable boats before it reached the platform and arrested two activists, later demanding to board the Arctic Sunrise for an inspection and then firing the warning shots, Greenpeace said. Greenpeace’s Twitter feed said the activists are being held on the coast guard vessel.
Neither Gazprom nor Russia's border service was immediately available for comment.
Greenpeace has long been engaged in a battle against Russian offshore drilling in the oil-rich but environmentally fragile Arctic Ocean, saying that a potential oil spill would be near impossible to successfully clean up and would inflict devastating damage on the region’s environment.
Thawing sea ice, however, has made the Arctic an attractive target for energy companies hoping to tap into the ocean’s reserves of untouched oil and gas.
Russia has made petroleum exploration a priority, with Gazprom signing a deal with oil company Royal Dutch Shell to explore Russia’s Arctic shelf and launching the Prirazlomnaya platform in the Pechora Sea in 2011. Gazprom plans to begin oil production from the platform this year, according to its website.
Greenpeace staged a similar protest at the same platform last year, with six activists scaling the side of the rig and dangling for several hours, displaying a banner reading “Don’t Kill the Arctic.”
More recently, the Arctic Sunrise made headlines at the end of August when it attempted to enter Arctic waters through the Northern Sea Route to stage a protest on oil exploration in the area.
Russia rejected Greenpeace’s applications for entrance to the Arctic and blocked the ship when it attempted the voyage, citing a lack of classification for its ice-faring capabilities. Greenpeace claimed the Arctic Sunrise had a higher ice classification than oil exploration vessels already operating in the area, and called the decision “a thinly veiled attempt to stifle peaceful protest and keep international attention away from Arctic oil exploration in Russia.”