MOSCOW — A Russian court ordered Thursday that 10 Greenpeace activists, including a U.S. ship captain and a photographer who was accompanying the group, be held in custody for two months while the authorities investigate whether a demonstration at an offshore oil rig in the Arctic was an act of piracy.
The court in the port city of Murmansk worked into the evening, conducting individual hearings for the crew of Greenpeace activists - 30 in all - who were detained at the oil rig last week. They arrived in Murmansk on Tuesday along with their ship, the Arctic Sunrise, which was towed into port by the Russian coast guard.
The detentions ordered by the court signaled that Russian prosecutors intended to go ahead with criminal cases against the activists, and that many of those still awaiting hearings would probably be detained as well.
Two members of the Greenpeace group attempted to board the Prirazlomnaya oil platform in the Pechora Sea on Sept. 18 to protest oil and gas drilling in the Arctic. Russian border guards responded by helicopter and seized their ship. A spokesman for the Russian Investigative Committee, which opened a criminal investigation of the Greenpeace activists Tuesday, said the protest constituted an “encroachment on the sovereignty” of Russia.
A judge said the photographer, Denis Sinyakov, a freelancer based in Moscow, should be held because he has no place of residence in Murmansk and regularly travels outside of Russia, according to video from the courtroom uploaded to the Internet. Sinyakov appeared in handcuffs in court Thursday.
In another courtroom, Roman Dolgov, a Russian citizen, said that he had joined the Greenpeace crew as a scientific expert and had not taken part in the demonstration. “I hope that common sense prevails,” Dolgov told a judge before he was ordered held for two months.
The 30 Greenpeace activists include people from 18 countries, including Britain, the Netherlands and the United States. The U.S. captain, Peter Willcox, was formerly master of the Rainbow Warrior, another Greenpeace ship, which exploded and sank during a protest against French nuclear testing in the Pacific in 1985.
In remarks Wednesday, President Vladimir V. Putin seemed intent on defusing a potential diplomatic incident over the arrest of the activists.
“It’s completely obvious that of course they are not pirates,” Putin said at an Arctic conference in the northern city of Salekhard. However, Putin defended the actions of the coast guard.
“Our border guards did not know who was trying to seize our platform under the disguise of Greenpeace,” Putin said. Referring to the recent terrorist attack at a mall in Kenya, he added, “Anything might have happened.”
Ben Ayliffe, the head of Greenpeace’s Arctic campaign, said after the ruling that it had been “exceptionally difficult” to predict what the Russian authorities would eventually do.”