Russia ordered to pay for seizing ‘Arctic Sunrise’, detaining Arctic 30

Russia has been ordered to pay compensation to the Netherlands, for unlawfully seizing the Arctic Sunrise vessel in September 2013, according to a ruling brought by a tribunal in The Hague. The case was initiated against Russia by the Netherlands on October 4, 2013.

The ship, flying the Dutch flag, is operated by Greenpeace. In September 2013, the vessel approached the Gazprom-operated Prirazlomnaya platform in the Pechora Sea, offshore northern coast of Russia.

The activists were there to protest against the Arctic drilling. In the morning of September 19, the Arctic Sunrise launched five inflatable boats, which approached the platform, allowing two campaigners to scale its side. Their climb was hampered by the platform’s water cannons and the efforts of two inflatables launched from a Russian Coast Guard vessel―the Ladoga.

The protest ended by Russian forces seizing the Arctic Sunrise vessel and arresting 30 people on board, which later became famous as the Arctic 30.

After that, the Arctic 30 were detained, charged with the criminal offence of piracy, subsequently requalified as hooliganism, and remanded in custody. They were released on bail by November 29, 2013, and were granted amnesty by Decree of the Russian State Duma in respect of the crime of hooliganism on December 18, 2013.

On June 6, 2014, the arrest of the Arctic Sunrise was lifted. The ship departed from Murmansk on August 1, 2014.

The Ruling

The Permanent Court of Arbitration’s tribunal in The Hague found that Russia broke several articles of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, by boarding, investigating, inspecting, arresting, detaining, and seizing the Arctic Sunrise without the prior consent of the Netherlands, and by arresting, detaining, and initiating judicial proceedings against the Arctic 30.

In its ruling announced on Monday, August 24, the tribunal found that the Netherlands is entitled to compensation (with interest) for material damage to the Arctic Sunrise, for material and non-material damage to the Arctic 30, and for the costs  incurred by the Netherlands in connection with the issuance of a bank guarantee pursuant to the ITLOS Order.

Furthermore, the tribunal ordered Russia to return objects seized from the Arctic Sunrise and the Arctic 30 and, failing their timely restitution, to compensate the Netherlands for their value. The Tribunal also ordered Russia immediately to reimburse Russia’s share of the deposits paid on its behalf by the Netherlands.

The tribunal consisting of judges from Australia, the Netherlands, Mexico and Poland, presided by a Ghanaian judge, said it brought the ruling by a unanimous.

As for the compensation amount it said it would reserve „the questions of the quantum of compensation and interest to a later phase of the proceedings.“

Worth noting, Russia did not participate in the arbitration. On that note, the tribunal said: “Accordingly, throughout the proceedings, the Tribunal took a number of steps to safeguard the integrity of the proceedings, including Russia’s procedural rights. For example, the Tribunal provided Russia with all case materials, gave notice of procedural steps, and reiterated Russia’s right to participate in the arbitration at any time.”


Greenpeace welcomes the decision

Responding to the news, Greenpeace International legal counsel Daniel Simons said:

“We’re pleased about today’s ruling because it sets an important precedent. Governments exist to uphold the rule of law, not to act as armed security agents for the oil industry. This kind of behaviour is not limited to the Russian authorities – across the world, environmental activists are facing serious intimidation from those who wish to silence them.

“This protest occurred well outside of Russia’s territorial waters and did nothing to satisfy the legal definition of piracy or hooliganism. We hope that this deters other countries from similarly aggressive attempts to stifle dissent, either on land or at sea.”


Also, Dutch Foreign minister Bert Koenders welcomed the ruling: “The Court’s ruling offers ships in international waters the guarantee that a country cannot board them and arrest their crew if it doesn’t have the right to do so. And that also applies if the crew are exercising the right to protest.”

“The ruling also makes clear that the Netherlands – as the flag state – has the right to stand up for the ship’s crew,” said Koenders. “The Netherlands sees freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate as public goods that are worth defending.”

He added that the ruling also contributes to the development of the international legal order, especially the law of the sea and the right to demonstrate.


Russia’s stance

While Russia refused to partake in the arbitration, the country’s foreign ministry on August 5 issued a document supporting its actions against the Arctic Sunrise.

One excerpt reads: “The Arctic Sunrise delivered Greenpeace activists to Prirazlomnaya. After their action that was coordinated from the ship they returned to the Arctic Sunrise which remained in the vicinity of the platform refusing to follow the instructions of the Russian Border Guard and obstructing its activities.

The vessel and its crew were clearly acting as a unit against the platform and Russian law-enforcement officials. In this situation exclusive criminal jurisdiction and in particular enforcement jurisdiction of the Russian Federation over Prirazlomnaya apparently extended to the vessel and those on board and the flag State had no exclusive jurisdiction over the vessel. Thus there was no need for the Russian authorities to seek consent of the flag State for the boarding of Arctic Sunrise and detention of the ship and its crew.”

Also in the document, it has been written the Russian Federation respects the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly exercised in accordance with international law, including when they are exercised at sea. Russian authorities are also open to dialogue with those having concerns regarding economic activities in the Arctic, the text in the document reads.

“However, when the enjoyment of the aforementioned rights is combined with aggressive behavior of their beneficiaries (“protesters”), obstruction of the
law-enforcement activities and infringement of the rights of others, it cannot, in accordance with international law, be qualified either as peaceful or as lawful.

Definitely, there are alternative means to express views on the necessity to preserve the Arctic environment and to “protest at sea” – such that would not
create prejudice to private and public rights and interests, infringe the law and put others at risk, ” it has been written in the document by the Russian foreign ministry.


Offshore Energy Today Staff

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