Last week, we had a remarkable phone call from Murmansk.
It was from the team of lawyers representing Greenpeace International telling us that the Russian Investigative Committee (IC) had decided to release the Arctic Sunrise, after nearly nine months of illegal detention in this remote Arctic port.
The Arctic Sunrise was illegally seized at gunpoint in international waters by Russian commandos last September after a peaceful protest at Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya Arctic oil platform in the Pechora Sea. The 28 activists and two freelance journalists onboard were kept for months in jail on spurious charges of piracy and then hooliganism, before finally being granted a Parliamentary amnesty at the end of December last year.
The ship got no such amnesty. Instead she has been left unattended and unloved to rust quietly in a corner of the port far away from prying eyes.
Thankfully, her ordeal should soon be over. Our lawyers have signed the papers and she’s officially back in our hands. Millions of people from around the world spoke out against the illegal imprisonment of the Arctic 30, and today the final member of the group is free to come home.
Our first priority is to make sure the Sunrise is seaworthy. Nine months is a long time for an icebreaker to go without basic maintenance, let alone the sort of care and attention she usually gets from her crew.
But like our campaign to protect the Arctic I guarantee she will emerge better, fitter and even stronger than before.
The Arctic Sunrise should never have been detained in the first place. There was absolutely no justification for her being boarded, seized and kept for so long in Murmansk, not least when the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ordered her immediate release in November 2013.
This whole affair has been a brazen attempt to intimidate those who believe that drilling for oil in the melting Arctic is reckless and unsafe.
Thank you to all of those who stood with the Arctic 30 and the Arctic Sunrise. Only together will we Save the Arctic. As the world warms and the ice melts this is fast becoming an era defining battle, and we are determined to win it.
Ben Ayliffe is head of the Arctic oil campaign at Greenpeace UK.
To celebrate this news, we’ve put together 17 stunning images of the Arctic Sunrise in peaceful action.
The first time Greenpeace came in contact with the Arctic Sunrise, it was actually confronting the ship as the French government was using it to build an air strip through a penguin habitat.
Since then it has worked everywhere from within 450 miles of the North Pole, to Antarctica’s Ross Sea, and has navigated both the Congo and the Amazon. It’s latest activity to protest against environmental destruction, including Gazprom’s reckless oil drilling in the Arctic, left it in the hands of Russian authorities along with 28 international activists and two independent journalists.
Designed as an icebreaker, its rounded, keelless hull allows it to navigate through sea ice – but also makes life rather interesting in rolling seas. In 1997, The Arctic Sunrise became the first ship to circumnavigate James Ross Island in the Antarctic, a previously impossible journey until a 200m thick ice shelf connecting the island to the Antarctic continent collapsed. This was just one of the many signs of climate change which the Arctic Sunrise has helped document.
17. The ship journeys through the Tongass National Forest en route to Juneau, Alaska.
16. The Arctic Sunrise traveled to the Dry Tortugas with several teams of independent scientists to conduct a series of scientific research programs to further understand the impacts of both oil and chemical dispersants on the Gulf ecosystem in the aftermath of the BP Deepwater oil spill.
15. Greenpeace activists from the Arctic Sunrise attach floating devices to the cables of a Spanish fishing trawler, forcing her to haul her nets empty, less than an hour after starting the trawl. The trawler is fishing at 450 meters deep, 170 km off the west coast of Ireland in the north east Atlantic ocean destroying the fish habitats of over exploited stocks.
14. A team of six Greenpeace activists including Executive Director of Greenpeace International, Kumi Naidoo, board an Arctic oil platform Prirazlomnaya off the North-eastern coast of Russia in the Pechora Sea.
13. A researcher writes in the dive log of the Dual Deep Worker submarine on an inflatable boat near the Greenpeace ship MY Arctic Sunrise in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil spill of 2010.
12. In 1997, The Arctic Sunrise became the first ship to circumnavigate James Ross Island in the Antarctic, a previously impossible journey until a 200 meter thick ice shelf connecting the island to the Antarctic continent collapsed.
11. Greenpeace protests against the ship “Front Driver” loaded with 153.000 tons of coal, 15 miles outside Valencia. The “Front Driver” is heading towards Tarragona. The protest is to denounce the Spanish energy policy that still relies heavily in fossil fuels.
10. Two Greenpeace ships, the Rainbow Warrior and the Arctic Sunrise sail together in the Mediterranean Sea in 2012 to action against the bluefin tuna fishing fleets and to promote marine reserves.
9. The crew of the Arctic Sunrise construct a ‘heart, with the flags of the 193 country members of the United Nations on an ice floe north of the Arctic Circle.
8. The ship displays a banner reading “Still Yearning To Breathe Free. Quit Coal” as it passes in front of the Statue of Liberty during the ship’s arrival in New York.
7. The ship’s crew and a team of independent scientists sail to remote northeast Greenland, to study the effects of climate change in the Arctic in 2009.
6. Crews of the MY Arctic Sunrise and the MY Esperanza use their bodies to write “Help End Whaling!” on the ice of Antarctica, after completing a two month campaign against the whaling fleet of Japan.
5. Ice accumulates in the strong winds that cross the starboard side of the Arctic Sunrise during a 2011 tour in Norway.
4. The ship Arctic Sunrise blocks the path of the smaller Cargill ship containing Amazonian soya to prevent it from exiting in 2006. Cargill is responsible for exporting soya grown in deforested areas of the rainforest where huge areas are destroyed to accommodate agricultural demand.
3. Politicians and celebrities board the Arctic Sunrise to say ‘NO’ to Trident and explain why they don’t want the UK to spend up to £76 billion on outdated, unnecessary and dangerous weapons of mass destruction in 2007. The Arctic Sunrise has recently returned from an action at the Faslane nuclear base in Scotland, where it blockaded the port for an entire day in protest at the UK government’s rush to a new generation of nuclear weapons.
2. The Arctic Sunrise with “SOS” signs held in between two inflatables in front of Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio de Janerio in 2001.
1. The Greenpeace ship, Arctic Sunrise is towed into Murmansk port by a Russian Coast Guard vessel. The activists onboard are detained with piracy charges for a protest against Arctic oil drilling by Russian company Gazprom in the Pechora Sea. The ‘Arctic 30? include 28 Greenpeace International activists, as well as a freelance photographer and a freelance videographer.
What’s your favourite Arctic Sunrise moment? Leave a comment below and let us know!