Greenpeace Piracy Charges: Can Environmental Activists go too far for Their Cause?


September 18, 2013 Greenpeace activists allegedly violated a 500 meter security zone around a Russian oil platform. The Greenpeace ship is said to have been within that zone, carrying equipment for an unknown use, and inflatable boats used to reach and scale the offshore platform.

The Russian Coast Guard seized the Greenpeace ship and the environmental activists have been held in Murmansk jails, located above the Arctic Circle. These 30 activists, who were aboard the ship, range in nationality, from 18 different countries. 14 of the 30 were charged this past Wednesday, October 2, 2013, with the international violation of piracy by Russia’s Investigative Committee.

The United Nations defines piracy under Article 101 of the UNCLOS. Article 101a states that one way piracy is committed is through,

“any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed: (i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft (ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State.”(UNCLOS)

The September 18th protest was meant to bring attention to the possibility of environmental harm caused by drilling in Arctic waters. The platform, owned by a subsidiary of Gazprom, has not begun drilling yet. This platform is the first of its kind located in the Arctic. These passionate advocates of the environment have an ultimately positive purpose. However, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was quoted saying, “Concern for the environment must not cover up unlawful actions, whatever lofty goals the people who were taking part in them espoused.”(

Are the piracy charges against these activists groundless? Do you agree with Prime Minister Medvedev? If the piracy charges are unwarranted do you believe the protesters should be charged with another crime?




One comment

  1. While the protesting practices of Greenpeace led to an extreme result in this case, it has brought national attention to its cause. Because they are facing piracy charges, the possibility of environmental harm caused by Arctic drilling has now become internationally known. I question if they knowingly violated the law or just happened to come across the security zone.

    Additionally, the UN definition of piracy involves acts of “violence or detention, or any act of depredation.” It seems here that Greenpeace was simply protesting and did not plan any aggressive act, hence their name “Greenpeace.” While I agree with Minister Medvedev that activists should still be aware of the laws, I do not think piracy charges are the appropriate punishment. A piracy charges comes with a fifteen-year imprisonment, which I do not think is appropriate in this case. Maybe a trespassing charge or something similar to it would be a better alternative.

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