Friday, June 22, 2018

Russians tow Greenpeace ship; activists could face charges of piracy, terrorism

MOSCOW — The Russian Coast Guard is towing a Greenpeace ship toward the nearest port after armed officers stormed it following a protest against oil drilling in Arctic waters.

The agency said Friday that the ship's captain refused to operate the Arctic Sunrise, so a Coast Guard ship has arrived at the scene to tow the ship to the port of Murmansk. The trip is expected to take three to four days.

Russian officials said that Greenpeace activists could face terrorism or piracy charges.

One of the activists aboard the vessel, Faiza Oulahsen, told the AP late on Thursday that about 15 armed men had boarded the Arctic Sunrise, aggressively herding 29 activists into one compartment. The vessel's captain was held separately on the bridge.

"They used violence against some of us, they were hitting people, kicking people down, pushing people," she said in a phone call from the ship.

A day earlier, two activists were arrested following an attempt to board an offshore drilling platform belonging to state natural gas company Gazprom.

The Coast Guard is part of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB.

Liliya Moroz, a representative of the FSB in Murmansk region, told Ekho Moskvy radio on Friday that the charges against the activists may include terrorism.

Under Russian law, terrorism is any action aimed at "violating general safety, frightening the public or influencing government action" that damages property or threatens the lives of others in the process. It carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison if the person was unarmed.

The top state investigative agency, the Investigative Committee, said in a statement issued later that it has opened an investigation on charges of piracy against Greenpeace activists based on the materials provided by the FSB.

Greenpeace said they had been unable to make contact with the activists since late on Thursday and had not yet received official confirmation of these charges from the security services, but said that this was the first detention of a boat and its activists in Russian waters for nearly two decades.

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