Russian investigators say they have found drugs aboard a Greenpeace ship used in a protest against offshore Arctic drilling and would press new charges against some of the 30 people being held for alleged piracy. The Arctic Sunrise and everyone on board was seized by Russia's coast guard after a Sept. 18 protest at an offshore oil platform owned by the Russian state-controlled energy company Gazprom.

Russia’s powerful Investigative Committee said morphine and poppy straw, ingredients found in heroin and opiates, were found on the ship.

Greenpeace International dismissed the allegations in a statement: "Any claim that illegal drugs were found is a smear, it's a fabrication, pure and simple."

“We can only assume the Russian authorities are referring to the medical supplies that our ships are obliged to carry under maritime law,” the statement said.

In addition to drugs, Russian investigators said searches of the Arctic Sunrise, which was boarded by members of Russia’s coast guard after the Sept. 18 protest at the Prirazlomnaya drilling platform, had revealed equipment with potential military uses.

It also said investigators were trying to establish which of  those being held were responsible for what it called attempts to ram coast guard boats, endangering the lives of their crew.

Alexandre Paul

Alexandre Paul of Montreal was a deckhand aboard the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise. He is among 30 activists and crew members who may face drug-related charges in addition to alleged piracy. (Jiri Rezac/Greenpeace)

"In view of the data obtained while investigating the criminal case, charges are expected to be adjusted," the committee said in a statement. It also said "a number of detainees will be presented with charges of committing other grave crimes."

Russia arrested the 28 activists and two freelance journalists who were aboard the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise during a protest at an offshore drilling platform and charged all of them with piracy, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The activists, crew members and journalists come from 18 different countries, including two from Canada.

Greenpeace lawyer Alexander Mukhortov said that the vessel's American captain legally kept morphine in his safe for medical purposes and the equipment cited by investigators was a sonar device widely used for maritime expeditions.

Piracy charges

The environmentalist group said the piracy charges are absurd and unfounded and the conditions of detention for the detainees have in some cases violated their civil rights.

Kumi Naidoo, the head of Greenpeace, offered in a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin to move to Russia and stand in as a guarantee if the activists were to be granted bail.

"Were our friends to be released on bail, I offer myself as security against the promise that the 28 Greenpeace International activists will answer for their peaceful protest according to the criminal code of Russia," wrote Naidoo.

A Murmansk court refused bail for four Russians among those under arrest. Appeals hearings against pretrial detention of the 26 other detainees are due this week and next.

Putin has said the activists were clearly not pirates but that their protest did violate the law.

The group's lawyers say the charges might have been initially laid to justify forcibly boarding and seizing the ship, which Greenpeace says was waiting in international waters during the protest.

The case has already upset Moscow's international ties, with the Netherlands launching legal proceedings against Russia, saying it had unlawfully detained the activists and others on the Dutch-registered icebreaker Arctic Sunrise.

The Russian investigators said the ship had violated the 500-metre security zone around the platform.

Greenpeace said its ship stayed out of this zone and its inflatable boats, used by activists to reach the platform, posed no danger.

Naidoo was among Greenpeace activists who scaled the same platform, owned by the state energy company Gazprom and at the heart of Russia's drive to tap the Arctic's energy resources, last year and got away with it.

The harsher treatment this time around is widely seen as an attempt to prevent future protests and give a clear signal that Russia is not willing to tolerate such actions.