Arctic 30 5-year anniversary update

Deze blog werd geschreven door Nora Christiansen, campaigner op People vs Oil bij Greenpeace International

Dear all,

5 years ago today, September 19th 2013, our ship the Arctic Sunrise was illegally and violently seized by Russian authorities in international waters in the Pechora Sea, high above the Arctic Circle. The crew, made up of 28 Greenpeace activists and 2 independent journalists, were there to tell the world about the dangers of drilling for oil in this remote and fragile region.

Their courageous action, and the disproportional response from the Russian authorities, inspired people across the globe to stand up both for the protection of the Arctic from oil drilling and for the freedom of the Arctic 30.

Today, the Arctic 30 action and solidarity response stands out as a defining moment in Greenpeace’s history, a moment when personal courage, activism and our global reach came together over the course of three long and often difficult months to tell a story that remains as pertinent and important today as it was in September 2013.

Please join us in honouring the thirty and the massive impact the action had, 5 years later.


What happened?

The boarding and seizure of the Arctic Sunrise by Russian commandos came the day after a non-violent protest at Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya oil platform, during which activists tried to scale the side of the half-a-million-tonne, ice-resistant construction to hang a banner calling for Arctic protection. The activity followed years of Greenpeace campaigning against oil development in the Arctic, including an iconic action involving activist and former IED Kumi Naidoo at the very same platform in 2012.

During the peaceful protest, Russian security forces opened fire with automatic weapons and threatened activists with knives and guns. The next evening, special forces boarded the Arctic Sunrise and towed our ship to the city of Murmansk, where all 30 crew members were forced to disembark and detained.

In early October, all 30 were officially charged with piracy, which carried a 15-year prison sentence, starting a legal battle that continues to this day. This charge was later changed to hooliganism, which carries a 7-year sentence, and in early November, the Arctic 30 were transported by train on an arduous 800 mile journey from Murmansk to St Petersburg.

On the 19th November, the first of our activists were finally released on bail, and it took several more days before the last of them finally left jail. After their release from jail, the Arctic 30 were forced to stay in Russia until the very final days of 2013, when they were granted amnesty by the Russian Parliament - for a crime that they did not commit - and finally allowed to return home.

The Arctic Sunrise finally left Russia in August 2014, nearly a year after the protest took place.

The Arctic 30

If you do not know who the Arctic 30 are, you can meet them and find out a little more about each of them here.


Support Operation

With the arrest of the Arctic 30 and the seizure of the Arctic Sunrise, one of the largest duty of care and global solidarity efforts ever launched by the organisation began.

An entire support operation was set up in Murmansk in a handful of days, and later transferred to St. Petersburg. Local and international lawyers, translators, spokespeople, comms officers, photographers and videographers, logistics and security specialists, Greenpeace staff and volunteers from Russia and around the world travelled to Murmansk to support the Arctic 30 during and after their detention, to tell their story to the world and to obtain their release. This support work took place while Greenpeace Russia was subject to very intense pressure from the Russian authorities and state media, which sometimes translated into physical threats, like when the temporary Greenpeace office in Murmansk was raided by masked men.

At the same time, the Arctic 30 campaign response quickly developed into a global priority for the entire organisation and involved tens of thousands of allies, politicians and celebrities who took action to stand in support of the 30 detained illegally in Russia.

Global Solidarity and Protest

Lead by a small team based in Copenhagen, Moscow, London and Amsterdam, the Greenpeace campaign to free the Arctic 30 and protest about oil drilling in the Arctic became one of the biggest global solidarity campaigns we’ve ever organised, reaching far beyond our regular supporter networks. The story became global news as soon as the action at the Prirazlomnaya platform began, and the eyes of the world’s media were glued to the unfolding fight to free the Arctic 30 from their illegal detention in Russia until the moment the campaign succeeded and all 30 were able to return home. It would be impossible to list everything that happened during that time, but some of the highlights of the campaign included:


Legal case

The legal struggle to free the Arctic 30 played out on different fronts. In Murmansk, a team of 30 lawyers - recruited from different parts of Russia - contested the charges and helped maintain an all-important line of communication between the detainees and the outside world.

Meanwhile, we worked to convince and support the Dutch government to bring a case before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. The 22 judges ordered the release of our crew, an outcome the Russian authorities preempted by granting them bail immediately before. The Netherlands pressed further, helped by evidence secured by the Arctic 30 themselves - in one case even contained on a memory card hidden in a shoe that was smuggled out of prison.

Eventually Russia was also ordered to pay damages. Efforts continue to ensure payment and the Arctic 30 are still pursuing justice before the European Court of Human Rights, aided by Greenpeace International's legal team.

The Story Lives On - After the Arctic 30

Books and Films

Ben Stewart’s book about the Arctic 30 saga Don’t Trust, Don’t Fear, Don’t Beg is now being turned into a major movie by legendary film producer David Puttnam (Chariots of Fire and The Killing Fields) and director Baltasar Kormakur (Everest). There should be further updates on this project in the coming weeks and months.

Maarten van Rouveroy van Nieuwaal’s documentary Black Ice from 2014 was shown at film festivals around the world and continues to inspire new viewers keen to learn more about the story of the Arctic 30.


Support for Save the Arctic

The story of the Arctic 30 stands as one, if not the most, inspiring GP story of the last decade and during their action, arrests and subsequent fight for freedom, thousands of people around the world joined Greenpeace’s fight against oil drilling in icy waters and to call for a protected Arctic Sanctuary, many of them joining a campaign like ours for the first time. Since the Arctic 30, the Save the Arctic has had many successes, including:



The campaign today

Greenpeace continues to campaign against reckless oil drilling in remote areas, including the Arctic. Here are some of the campaigns we’ve been running and ways you can join in to help:



The lessons learned

Through the Arctic 30 experience, Greenpeace has learned a lot as a global organization about how to bring our campaign forces together in a truly global way and how to prioritize one single objective when needed. We have also learned a lot about how to deal with a critical incident of such a magnitude and about what it means to be a risk-taking organisation and how to use the power of storytelling during these moments.

For many of us, it doesn’t feel like 5 years have passed since the Arctic Sunrise was seized and 30 of our friends and colleagues were locked up for a crime they simply did not commit. Hopefully this moment to look back to those days and honour the Arctic 30 and everyone who took action to support them will remind people of the risks the 30 were willing to take to stand up for our shared environment and just what Greenpeace can achieve when we act together.


Thanks again to the Arctic 30, their family and friends, and to all Greenpeace staff, activists and volunteers who participated in the campaign to bring them home.



with love, Nora


Further Reading

Background Articles

When Russia declared war on Greenpeace.

Fifty days in hell - dispatches from Russia in the Arctic 30’s own words.

“My little girl will have forgotten who I am if I get out of here in 7 years.”

The unlikely activist forced to find strength in Arctic jail.

“My partner is one of the Arctic 30.”



Russian forces seize the Arctic Sunrise.

Arctic 30: Letters from prison.

Behind the scenes with the Arctic 30 support team.



Prirazlomnaya action and detention.

Arctic 30 Portraits

Global Protests and Solidarity.

Release and Amnesty.

Return home.