The Netherlands has begun legal action against Russia to secure the release of 30 activists from the Greenpeace environmentalist organization who have been charged with piracy.
Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said on October 4 that the Netherlands has started an arbitration process based on the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea against the "unlawful detention" by Russian officials of Greenpeace's "Arctic Sunrise" ship, which sails under a Dutch flag, and its crew.
"With regard to the ["Arctic Sunrise"] ship, we will start an arbitration procedure at the [International] Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, to clarify if Russia had the rights to seize the ship and if they are obliged to release it," he said. "With regard to the crew, they have been charged under Russian law for piracy and I really want to have consultations now with my Russian colleagues to try and get the people freed as soon as possible."
Earlier, Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman Friso Wijnen said the Netherlands believed the crew members' arrest was "illegal," because Russia should have first asked Dutch authorities' permission to board the ship.
On October 3, Russian officials charged the ship's activists with piracy, which carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years.
Greenpeace says the crew of the ship committed no crimes. The organization has described the charges as "extreme and disproportionate."
The activists -- who come from 18 countries -- were detained in September by Russian Coast Guard forces after they had tried to climb a Gazprom oil platform in the Barents Sea to protest Russian plans to drill in the Arctic.
President Vladimir Putin has expressed his opinion, saying that the activists were not pirates but had breached international law.
The platform, which the activists tried to scale, belongs to Gazprom's oil subsidiary. It is the first offshore rig in the Arctic. It was deployed to the vast Prirazlomnaya oil field in the Pechora Sea in 2011, but its launch has been delayed by technological difficulties.
Gazprom said in September that it was going to start pumping oil this year but did not provide an exact commencement date.
Russia, the U.S., Canada, Denmark and Norway have all been trying to assert jurisdiction over parts of the Arctic, believed to hold up to a quarter of the Earth's undiscovered oil and gas.
On October 3, Putin said Moscow will expand its presence in the Arctic and restore a Soviet-era military base there to protect shipping routes across the Arctic Ocean.
Speaking at a gathering of members of the ruling United Russia party, Putin added that the Arctic region is essential for Russia's economic and security interests.
"The Arctic is an integral part of the Russian Federation," he said. "It has been under our sovereignty throughout the past few centuries. And it will be so for the time to come."
With reporting by AFP and Reuters