Five of 30 Greenpeace activists arrested last month for a protest at a Russian oil platform in Arctic waters were charged Wednesday with piracy, media reported.
Russian authorities filed the charges against activists from Brazil, Britain, Russia, Sweden and Finland, the Interfax news agency reported citing an attorney for the environmental watchdog.
Greenpeace lawyer Mikhail Kreindlin said the piracy charges, which are punishable by up to 15 years in prison, were “completely unfounded, arbitrary and illegal”.
“Our activists had no intention of seizing anyone’s property. No crime was committed,” the attorney added.
All of the activists were ordered held in preventive detention by a court in the northwestern Russian port city of Murmansk for allegedly trying to seize Russian state energy giant Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya oil platform Sep 18.
Russian prosecutors said a group of activists on board Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise icebreaker were carrying a large haul of equipment for an unspecified purpose when they breached the platform’s 500-metre safety zone.
Greenpeace said its vessel did not enter the safety zone and that activists who approached the platform on board inflatable rafts and attempted to scale it posed no threat to the oil workers.
A day after the protest in the southeastern portion of the Barents Sea, the Arctic Sunrise was boarded by Russian border guards and the activists were arrested and taken to Murmansk.
Gazprom claims the Greenpeace action endangered the health and lives of workers on oil platform.
Greenpeace said that Gazprom’s plans to begin crude production with that rig in the first quarter of 2014 would increase the risk of an oil spill in an area that contains three natural reserves protected by Russian law.
The piracy charges were filed even though Russian President Vladimir Putin said after the activists were detained that, although they broke the law, it was clear they were not pirates.