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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russians Detaining Greenpeace Crew

Russian coast guards boarded the Greenpeace ship Solo off the islands of Novaya Zemlya Monday, detaining the entire crew for illegally trespassing in Russian territorial waters.


Coast guard personnel fired three shots across the stem of the Solo early Monday morning, according to a spokesperson for Greenpeace. The ship, with a crew of 34, is on a mission to investigate nuclear contamination in the area.


"Three shots from a 30 millimeter canon were fired at the Solo in the morning and in the afternoon two officers and 10 coast guards boarded the ship", said Eleanor O'Hanlon, the Moscow representative of Greenpeace on Monday. "We expect the ship will be escorted, on guard, to a port near Arkhangelsk".


O'Hanlon said Monday night that radio contact had been lost with the Solo. She also said that Russian officials and the environmentalists were still disputing where, precisely, the border between national and international waters lies.


The conflict began on Saturday, when the Solo was warned against crossing the Kara Straits into Russian waters and a coast-guard vessel, the Ural, set off in hot pursuit.


On Sunday the Ural shot three flares at the Greenpeace ship, which Solo's captain Albert Kuiken chose to ignore. Kuiken told O'Hanlon that although the Ural captain was threatening to use gunfire, he did not change course. He said he was sure he was not breaking any laws and was sailing in international waters, where he enjoyed the right of free passage.


By Monday morning the Solo was still in the Straits and sent a large inflatable dinghy with a crew of six to try to reach the site of a nuclear attack submarine dumped in shallow waters in 1982, according to O'Hanlon. For 40 minutes the Ural threatened to open fire while another coastguard vessel began pursuing the dinghy, Greenpeace said. At 11 A. M. , the Ural opened fire.


The Dutch-registered Solo was on its way to check radiation levels off the coast of the Arctic area, which is considered the world's largest nuclear dump at sea.


Experts believe that Soviet authorities disposed of 15 nuclear reactors and 17, 000 containers of nuclear waste in the area over a period of at least twenty years.


Greenpeace said it had asked for permission to make the trip to waters which are closed to foreigners, but got no response from Russian authorities.


Itar-Tass quoted coast guard Captain Nochevnov as saying the Solo had violated Russian territorial waters by one mile, forcing him to detain the ship.


"It is simply outrageous that a Russian vessel should fire on a vessel which is clearly unarmed", John Sprange, onboard the Solo, was quoted as saying in a Greenpeace press release. "It makes us wonder just what the coast guard and the military are trying to defend with their secrecy".