25 Arrested by Armed Russian Coast Guards Following Arctic Oil Drilling Protest
UPDATE: Saturday, Sept. 21
Greenpeace International dismisses Russian allegations of piracy as "unjustified and desperate"
Greenpeace International has strongly rejected an allegation of piracy leveled at its ship Arctic Sunrise in the Russian Arctic, describing it as a desperate attempt to justify the illegal boarding of its ship in international waters.
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, 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 full 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 230,000 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]."
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.
UPDATE: Friday, Sept. 20
Greenpeace International ship remains under control of Russian authorities in Russia's Exclusive Economic Zone
The crew of the Greenpeace icebreaker Arctic Sunrise remain in the custody of Russian authorities following an armed boarding of the ship in Russia's Exclusive Economic Zone yesterday. The ship has now been under armed guard since 1900 Moscow time on Thursday. We can now confirm 30 activists have been arrested.
It is now more than 12 hours since Greenpeace International has had any contact with the ship, which appears to be heading west towards the Russian territorial waters.
Greenpeace International has not received any formal confirmation of possible charges, and the activists have been denied access to legal or consular assistance. More than 20 Greenpeace offices are organizing protests at Russian embassies around the world today.
The head of Greenpeace International’s Arctic oil campaign, Ben Ayliffe, said:
“The safety of our activists remains our top priority and we are working hard to establish what is facing them. They have done nothing to warrant this level of aggression and have been entirely peaceful throughout. In our last phone call with the ship, the crew said that their spirit remains high and they have been boosted by messages of support from thousands of people who stand with them to oppose dangerous Arctic oil drilling.
“The real threat to the Russian Arctic comes not from the crew of the Arctic Sunrise but from Gazprom, one of the most reckless oil companies in the world today.”
According to one Russian media report, senior officials on Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya oil platform described a Greenpeace safety pod used in the protest as "resembling a bomb." In reality the safety pod—designed to keep the activists warm—measures 3 meters long by 2 meters wide, is brightly coloured, and heavily branded with Greenpeace logos. The safety pod was designed by competition winner Rubén Bodewig, an architecture student from Spain who beat 350 entrants.
According to activists on the ship, Russian FSB agents forced their way into the ship’s radio room and inflicted significant damage to communication equipment. Some activists were able to conduct interviews by satellite phone from the ship’s mess, where they are being held.
The Russian Coast Guard has boarded the Greenpeace International ship Arctic Sunrise and is arresting the 25 activists on board following a protest against Gazprom’s Arctic oil drilling operations.
At the time of boarding, the Arctic Sunrise was circling Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya platform at the three nautical mile limit. Coordinates confirm that the ship was inside of Russia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), making this an illegal boarding by the Russian Coast Guard. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea guarantees foreign vessels freedom to navigate in the EEZ of another state without interference of any kind. The coordinates at the time of the boarding were: 69-19-53N : 57-16-53E.
Using a helicopter and ropes, armed Coast Guard officials boarded the vessel and started rounding up the activists, assembling them on the helideck. Greenpeace International activists locked inside the radio room said they saw other activists detained on their knees with guns pointed at them.
U.S. Greenpeace Captain Peter Willcox is one of those arrested. Captain Willcox has skippered Greenpeace vessels for several decades, including the original Rainbow Warrior, which was bombed by French secret agents in New Zealand in 1985, killing one person.
The Coast Guard earlier arrested and held without charge two Greenpeace International activists who had scaled Gazprom’s drill platform on Wednesday in a peaceful protest.
“This illegal boarding of a peaceful protest ship highlights the extreme lengths that the Russian government will go to in order to keep Gazprom’s dangerous Arctic drilling away from public scrutiny," said Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo.“We ask President Putin to restrain the Coast Guard and order them to holster their guns and withdraw. We are a peaceful organization and our protest has done nothing to warrant this level of aggression.”
“We are extremely concerned for the safety of all those on board the Arctic Sunrise, and the activists that were summarily detained yesterday," said Greenpeace USA Executive Director Phil Radford.
“Extreme oil drilling is madness, that much is clear, and the risk of a devastating oil spill while worsening catastrophic climate change is plain," Radford continued. "The scenes from the Russian Arctic over the past two days of heavily armed masked men protecting the equipment of massive oil companies and now, storming the ship of peaceful protestors, are highly disturbing."
“We would urge the Russian Government to reassess who poses the real threat in the Arctic, as well as appeal to Shell—massive joint venture partners with Gazprom—to rethink their commitment to exploiting this fragile and unique part of the world, especially when done down the barrel of a gun,” said Radford.
The Russian Ministry of International Affairs earlier claimed the Coast Guard intervened during Wednesday’s protest because the Arctic Sunrise represented an environmental and security threat—a claim that Greenpeace International strongly disputes.
“The Coast Guard has boarded our vessels with guns, threatened our activists at gunpoint and fired 11 warning shots across our ship, so who is the real threat to safety here?” said Ben Ayliffe, head of Greenpeace International’s Arctic oil campaign.
Visit EcoWatch’s OFFSHORE OIL DRILLING page for more related news on this topic.
Typhoon Molave is expected to make landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday with 90 mph winds and heavy rainfall that could lead to flooding and landslides, according to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. To prepare for the powerful storm that already tore through the Philippines, Vietnam is making plans to evacuate nearly 1.3 million people along the central coast, as Reuters reported.
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A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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