Canadian crew members Alexandre Paul and Paul Ruzycki are now among those charged by Russia after its coast guard seized a Greenpeace ship carrying 30 people from 18 countries following a Sept. 18 protest at an offshore oil platform owned by the Russian state-controlled energy company Gazprom, according to Greenpeace.
- Greenpeace activists, including 2 Canadians, jailed in Russia
- Greenpeace activists not pirates, Vladimir Putin says
Greenpeace confirmed on Twitter Thursday that the entire crew and activists who were aboard the ship Arctic Sunrise have now been charged with piracy.
Paul, of Montreal, and Ruzycki, of Port Colborne, Ont., were among 16 people who were charged Thursday, according to a statement by Russian investigators and confirmed by Greenpeace.
Shortly after the last of the charges had been issued, Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs issued this statement: "We are aware of the situation involving two Canadian citizens in Murmansk, Russia. Consular services are being provided to the two Canadian citizens as required. Due to the Privacy Act, we are not able to share any more information on this matter, " said spokesman John Babcock.
Another 14 people who were aboard the ship were similarly charged Wednesday.
The charges carry a prison term of up to 15 years upon conviction.
The activists and crew members are now in custody in the northern city of Murmansk and are expected to be detained until at least Nov. 24, Greenpeace said in a statement.
The environmental group denies any wrongdoing and described the charges as "absurd."
In an interview with CBC News, Greenpeace's Arctic co-ordinator Christy Ferguson called the piracy charges “extreme” and meant to intimidate. The charges have "no relation to what they did," Ferguson said.
Greenpeace has mobilized an “international legal team,” with 10 lawyers in Russia working to appeal the piracy charges and a condition allegedly denying the detainees bail, Ferguson said. The appeals have been filed in the Murmansk Lenin district, according to a statement released by Greenpeace.
"Our activists have been charged with an imaginary offence,” Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said. Naidoo called the charges an intimidation tactic aimed at dissuading activists from a “peaceful, passionate campaign” against Gazprom and the Russian authorities, who he referred to as “bullies of the very worst kind."
Phil Radford, Greenpeace’s U.S. director, called Peter Willcox – the American captain of the Arctic Sunrise – “an American hero” who was “proud to be fighting for what he believes in,” Radford said.
Greenpeace is planning a “day of solidarity” Saturday with events scheduled in some 80 cities around the world, the environmental group posted on its website.
On Tuesday, Greenpeace climbers hung a giant banner from the roof of a soccer stadium in Switzerland during a tournament sponsored by Gazprom and on Wednesday, activists chained themselves to Gazprom-owned gas stations throughout Germany.
After the Greenpeace activists and crew were detained, Russian President Vladimir Putin said it was obvious they weren't pirates.
"I don't know the details of what went on, but it's completely obvious they aren't pirates," Putin said.
Quoted by Interfax news agency while speaking at a forum on Arctic affairs in late September, Putin defended the coast guard officers, however, saying they "didn't know who was trying to seize the platform" at the time and that in light of "what happened in Kenya, really, anything can happen."
Putin was referring to the attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi last month that resulted in at least 72 deaths. The Islamist group Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Russian investigators said the ship had violated the 500-metre security zone around the platform and that it was carrying equipment whose purpose was still unclear.
Greenpeace has said its ship stayed out of this zone and its inflatable boats, used by activists to reach the platform, posed no danger.
The activists have been in custody in the northern city of Murmansk since last week and come from Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Britain, Finland, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine.