The Greenpeace protest ship Arctic Sunrise has been released after 10 months of detention by Russian authorities and the damaged icebreaker is now limping back home to Amsterdam, the environmental activist group said Friday.
The Arctic Sunrise was boarded and seized by Russian forces on Sept. 19 and the 30 crew members and journalists on board were arrested as they protested oil-drilling by Russian companies inside the Arctic Circle.
Russia's Investigative Committee, an FBI-like federal agency, informed Greenpeace on June 6 that the vessel was being released after its detention and investigation in connection with criminal charges brought against the "Arctic 30" defendants, Greenpeace said in a statement.
The Greenpeace protest in the remote Sea of Pechora was broken up by Russian border control officers after the activists tried to climb aboard the Prirazlomnaya platform operated by Russian energy giant Gazprom. The Arctic Sunrise was towed to Murmansk and the 30 people on board, including four Russians, were arrested. Fourteen were initially charged with piracy.
After two months' detention, the Greenpeace protesters were released from jail and expelled from Russia under an amnesty announced to coincide with a Russian national holiday in November and the charges were reduced to "hooliganism," the Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported.
Greenpeace was unable to get a crew to Murmansk until June 27, when it was discovered that the icebreaker was not seaworthy, said Greenpeace campaigner Faiza Oulahsen.
“When the captain and crew boarded the Arctic Sunrise they found it in a bad state, with no maintenance for 10 months, and the ship’s navigation, communications and safety systems either removed or destroyed," Oulahsen said.
The activists spent nearly a month repairing the vessel before setting off from Murmansk early Friday for its home port in Amsterdam, Greenpeace said. The Itar-Tass account said the Greenpeace crew had intended to depart the Barents Sea port on July 22 but was delayed "due to formalities."
The Russian news agency quoted the Investigative Committee as saying the case against the protesters has not been closed, only suspended until Sept. 24.
Greenpeace also signaled that its actions are not over.
"Millions of people spoke out against the illegal imprisonment of the Arctic 30. These same millions of people know the planet is warming and that Arctic ice is melting, and will continue to peacefully oppose the reckless pursuit of Arctic oil both in Russia and around the world," Oulahsen said.
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