After Greenpeace activists attempted to scale the Prirazlomnaya drilling platform on 18 September 2013, as part of a protest against Arctic oil production, Russian authorities seized the Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise in international waters in the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone on 19 September 2013, arrested the crew at gunpoint, towed the ship to Murmansk, and detained the crew of 28 activists and two freelance journalists. The Investigative Committee of Russia opened a criminal investigation, charging the activists initially with piracy and later with hooliganism. Since the Arctic Sunrise was flying the Dutch flag, the Netherlands filed a case at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS case 22) which argued (and obtained ruling) the release of the crew and ship until both parties can resolve the conflict. Russia ignored the ITLOS ruling, but eventually released the crew as part of a general amnesty adopted by the State Duma after two months of detention. The Arctic Sunrise itself was released from Russian detainment in June 2014.
On 11 August 2013, the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise left the Norwegian port of Kirkenes to begin a month-long expedition in the Arctic to protest against oil exploration in Arctic waters. The Arctic Sunrise sailed into the Barents Sea and was then refused permission three times by the Russian authorities to enter the Northern Sea Route although the refusal is in violation of international law including the right to freedom of navigation. On 23 August, Greenpeace ignored Russia's ban to protest state oil company Rosneft’s operations in the Arctic and entered the international waters of the Kara Sea. On 26 August, the Arctic Sunrise left the Northern Sea Route, after the Russian coastguard boarded the boat and threatened to use force if they would not leave the international waters of the Kara sea.
On 18 September 2013, four RHIB inflatables were launched from the Arctic Sunrise from its position in the Pechora Sea. The RHIBs carried Greenpeace activists and crew members towards Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya drilling platform. At the time of the action, the Arctic Sunrise tweeted "We're going to try and stop the drilling.", although subsequently Greenpeace have stated that their aim was to hang banners on the oil rig to call for an end to Arctic drilling. Two activists managed to attach themselves to the platform and attempted to climb, despite being blasted with water, while another activist tried unsuccessfully to become attached to the platform. The Russian coastguard fired warning shots from AK-74 rifles and four warning shots from a cannon on board the Ladoga coastal patrol vessel. The two activists were removed from the platform and held on board the coastguard vessel, although it was unclear whether or not they had been placed under arrest.
On 19 September, the day after the Prirazlomnaya protest, the Russian authorities forcibly took control of the Arctic Sunrise, which was boarded from a helicopter by fifteen Federal Security Service officers in balaclavas, armed with guns and knives. At the time of the boarding, the Arctic Sunrise was in Russia's Exclusive Economic Zone but not within the safety zone around the oil rig, and permission was not sought to board it from the Arctic Sunrise's flag state, the Netherlands. The captain was separated from the crew, while other crew members and activists were held in the mess room. It is alleged that crew members and activists were punched and kicked during the forced boarding.
The Arctic Sunrise was towed to the port of Murmansk. All of the 30 people on board were taken to a detention facility there for questioning. In early October, the Leninsky District Court in Murmansk issued a warrant to arrest all 30 people. 22 were put in custody for two months pending an investigation and the other eight were detained for three days pending a new hearing. They were under investigation for piracy, which in Russia carries a maximum jail sentence of 15 years. On 23 October the charge of piracy was dropped and replaced by a charge for aggravated hooliganism with a maximum sentence of seven years. After they were transferred to Saint Petersburg on 12 November, the Kalininsky and Primorsky district courts released most of the people on bail, and the Murmansk Regional Court rejected an appeal against the arrests on 21 November.
According to Phil Radford, Executive Director of Greenpeace in the U.S. at the time, the reaction of the Russian coast guard and courts were the "stiffest response that Greenpeace has encountered from a government since the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985."
The detainees have been christened the "Arctic 30" by Greenpeace and the press. They include:
Crew by nationality:US: Captain Peter Henry Willcox
Argentina: Second mate Miguel Hernán Pérez Orsi
Australia: Radio operator Colin Russell
Brazil: Deckhand Ana Paula Alminhana Maciel
Canada: Bosun Alexandre Paul, first mate Paul D Ruzycki
Denmark: Third mate Anne Mie Roer Jensen
France: Deckhand Francesco Pisanu
Italy: Deckhand Cristian D'Alessandro
Netherlands: Chief engineer Mannes Ubels
New Zealand: Boat mechanic Jonathan Beauchamp, electrician David John Haussmann
Turkey: Volunteer assistant cook Gizem Akhan
UK: Communications officer Alexandra Hazel Harris, 2nd engineer Iain Rogers
Ukraine: Cook Ruslan Yakushev
Activists by nationality:Argentina: Activist Camila Speziale
Finland: Activist Sini Saarela
Netherlands: Campaigner Faiza Oulahsen
Poland: Activist Tomasz Dziemianczuk
Russia: Spokesman Roman Dolgov, Dr Yekaterina Zaspa, press officer Andrei Allahverdov
Sweden: Campaigner Dima Litvinov
Switzerland: Activist Marco Weber
UK: logistics co-ordinator Frank Hewetson, activist Anthony Perrett, activist Philip Ball
Non-activists and journalists by nationality:UK: Videographer and journalist Kieron Bryan
Russia: Photographer Denis Sinyakov
One of the jailed people is the award-winning Russian photographer Denis Sinyakov, whose jailing led to protests by the Russian Union of Journalists and the international group Reporters Without Borders. According to Alexei Simonov, head of Glasnost Defense Foundation, a Moscow-based rights group, Sinyakov was only covering the actions of Greenpeace activists in the Barents Sea and has nothing to do with the group's agenda, saying: "The authorities violated all norms and laws by keeping Sinyakov in prison ... I must say it again and again that Russian justice system is designed by the Kremlin not to look for real culprits to be punished but to punish and scare those who don't suit the authorities." Sinyakov posted on his Facebook account an image of a hooded Russian coast guardsman pointing a handgun at the boat. When the first two activists were detained, Sinyakov wrote: "I call upon you to join the struggle for freeing these activists, who sincerely see Arctic exploration as malignant." He was subsequently detained. The top trans-Atlantic security and rights group, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, also demanded Sinyakov's immediate release. Several Russian media outlets, including the lenta.ru site and a private but Kremlin-friendly national TV station, NTV, took all pictures off their websites in a show of solidarity with the jailed photographer. In Paris, a few dozen Greenpeace activists protested in front of the Russian Embassy on 27 September, waving banners with images of the incarcerated activists and the word "FREE" written over them. Up to 22 November, Russian court released all but one of the Greenpeace campaigners against bail (paid by Greenpeace) with the condition the campaigners could not leave Russia.
As flag state for the Arctic Sunrise, the Netherlands asked for immediate release of the ship and shipmates to Dutch authorities. The Dutch government argues that since the ship was outside Russian territorial waters and outside the (500 meter) safety zone around the oil rig, it was in open sea, and hence outside Russian sovereign rights and jurisdiction. According to nautical law any actions against a ship in open sea can only be conducted after agreement with the flag state. Hence the Dutch take the position the capture of the Arctic Sunrise by Russia was not legal. After Russia did not release the ship the Netherlands filed a formal case to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea 21. October to order Russia to release a Greenpeace ship and the activists who were on board. However, Russian government announced that it will not participate in the hearings, pointing out that back in 1997, when it ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, it refused to acknowledge the settlement procedures, which result in mandatory decisions in disputes over sovereign rights and jurisdictions.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has raised the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but says the Russian judicial process must run its course.
Eleven Nobel prize-winners have written to Vladimir Putin asking the Russian president to drop charges against Greenpeace activists and journalists.
Six men broke in Greenpeace office in Murmansk and stole materials.
On 22 November 2013 the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ruled that the campaigners and the ship should be immediately released, and should be allowed to leave the country, against a bail of 3.5 Million Euro. On 14 August 2015 the international Permanent Court of Arbitration unanimously ruled that Russia had acted in breach of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and has to compensate the Dutch government (flag state of the ship) for damages to the ship. The tribunal ruled that actions of Greenpeace could not be labelled as piracy or hooliganism; reasons Russia had given for capturing the ship. Russia, a partner of the permanent court of arbitration, responded by stating it does not recognize the authority of the court in this case.
According to Greenpeace, charges of piracy against peaceful activists have no merit in international law. Greenpeace rejected the suggestion of illegal drugs on the Arctic Sunrise. Certain pharmaceutical drugs are kept in a safe. The Russian authorities broke the safe after they took the vessel.
Phil Radford, executive director of Greenpeace USA, argues that the arrest of the Arctic 30 is the stiffest response that Greenpeace has encountered from a government since the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior by the French secret service in 1985.
Greenpeace activists continue to call for governments to save the arctic, the original motivation for the protest.
According to Dutch Greenpeace members, the condition of the Greenpeace ship worsened during its stay in Murmansk, as the Russian officials are not taking proper care of the vessel.
11 Nobel peace laureates wrote to Putin, calling on him to drop the "excessive" charges of piracy:South African Bishop Desmond Tutu
Northern Irish peace campaigner Betty Williams
Former President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias Sanchez
US peace campaigner Jody Williams
Liberian peace campaigner Leymah Gbowee
Yemeni peace campaigner Tawakkol Karman
Guatemalan social reformist Rigoberta Menchu Tum
Northern Irish peace activist Mairead Maguire
Iranian lawyer and former judge Shirin Ebadi
Former President of East Timor Jose Ramos Horta
Argentine community organiser Adolfo Perez Esquivel
German chancellor Angela Merkel expressed concerns about the arrest of the Greenpeace activists to Vladimir Putin, and urged a swift resolution of the case.
William Hague, the foreign secretary UK, has been negotiating with Russian ministers over the fate of the six British nationals involved.
According to Julia Marton-Lefevre, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature oil and gas exploring in the Arctic would have drastic consequences and the world should find low-carbon sources of energy.
Damon Albarn of Blur showed a poster of Frank Hewetson during the band's concert in Santiago, Chile, on 7 November, asking for him to be freed.
On 24 December 2013, it was announced that the first of the detainees, Anthony Perrett, had been freed under the amnesty law passed by the Russian parliament, and that more would be freed and the charges against them dropped.