Greenland police charge rig protestors

Greenland police chief: Protestors face breaking and entering and trespass charges. Courtesy

Greenland’s police chief today told Upstream that the activists on board the Greenpeace vessel Esperanza have, in the force’s opinion, broken Greenlandic law and may be liable to prosecution over the environmental group’s occupation of the semi-submersible drilling rig Stena Don.

Bjorn Tegner Bay, who took over as the Greenland force’s top cop in May, said the four activists who had scaled the Stena Don were currently being held in police custody in Aasiaat.

They have been charged with breaking and entering, as well as trespass.

Bay added that a pilot who flew a helicopter chartered by Greenpeace over the 500-metre exclusion zones surrounding the Stena Don and the drillship Stena Forth has also been charged with trespass and faces a fine.

“There is an open-ended scale for punishment,” he said. “(The four) face everything from a warning to 10 years in prison.”

However, Bay added: “It is likely we will impose a fine of a significant amount.”

The activists occupied the Stena Don, which was drilling the Alpha-1 well on the Sigguk Block in the Disko West sector of Baffin Bay for Edinburgh-based explorer Cairn Energy, on Tuesday morning.

Cairn halted drilling at Alpha-1 when the occupation started. Drilling has now resumed and it is understood the well should reach target depth within the next two weeks.

A spokesperson said: "Cairn can confirm that operations have started again on the Stena Don where safety remains Cairn's priority in this drilling exploration activity.

"The actions taken by Greenpeace remain a matter for the Greenlandic authorities."

Bay said that the four activists agreed to co-operate with the authorities when the weather turned bad late last night.

The four climbed the semisub’s legs on Tuesday morning and were sitting on small climbing platforms suspended from the side of the rig, about 15 metres above the water.

“We agreed that if we would help them, they would co-operate with us,” Bay said.

The four were winched onto the semisub’s deck - an operation that took about four hours - and were then arrested.

Bay added: “We originally wanted to ferry them to the mainland by police vessel, but the weather was worsening, so for safety reasons we helicoptered them to Aasiaat.”

He said that if, within the next 72 hours, the four agree to plead guilty and the Danish immigration authorities make a decision on deportation orders, then the matter is unlikely to go to court.

However, if they do not plead guilty and accept a fine, the next step, following deportation, is to summon them to appear in a Greenlandic court in the next few months.

Bay added that the Greenland Police are also considering whether to charge the crew of the Netherlands-registered vessel Esperanza.

“In our opinion, they have broken the same laws as the activists, but we will probably handle the matter through the country the vessel is registered in, via the Ministry of Justice in Denmark and the Dutch authorities.”

He added the Esperanza has now sailed away from the Stena Don and is currently close to the mainland.

Bay confirmed that the helicopter chartered by Greenpeace to fly over Cairn’s drilling sites had been impounded briefly in Qeqertarsuaq.

“We impounded it late yesterday afternoon, both as security for paying fines and as evidence.”

He said that as the aircraft was chartered rather than owned by Greenpeace, it had been released.

Bay also raised the possibility that Cairn could launch a civil suit against Greenpeace over the incident. Cairn declined to comment.

The action was designed to disrupt Cairn’s $420 million drilling campaign on the Sigguk Block.

Greenpeace had hoped that even a small delay to drilling would mean Cairn would not be able to meet a tight deadline to complete exploration before the harsh winter season begins around the end of the month.

As well, as the Alpha prospect, Cairn is also drilling the T8 prospect. Last week, it announced a gas find at T8, which is being drilled by the drillship Stena Forth.

Greenpeace's actions had earlier been condemned by the Greenlandic government and the Danish Navy, which had vessels in the area to enforce a 500-metre exclusion zone around both drilling units.

Both the navy and Greenland's Prime Minister Kuupik Kleist branded the Greenpeace stunt illegal.

Kleist said earlier this week: "This is clearly an illegal act, ignoring the rules of democracy. At the same time, it is a severe breach of security conditions, meant to protect the lives of people and the environment."

Kleist's Socialist government is keen to see further exploration in Greenlandic waters, arguing it is vital for the former Danish colony's further development as it heads towards full independence from Copenhagen.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace's Sim McKenna, one of the four protesters, said this morning: "We prevented drilling for two days. Although the Arctic weather finally got the upper hand, we are proud to have told Cairn and the oil industry what we think about their hunt for Arctic oil."

During the occupation Greenpeace called for drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic to be stopped, saying governments should instead be pushing to develop clean energy technologies.

Earlier, Greenland's Bureau of Minerals & Petroleum praised Cairn's operations in Disko West, saying: "Drilling has been carried out in accordance with very high safety and environmental standards.”


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