Dutch government takes Russia to maritime court

The Dutch government has taken Russia to the international maritime court to try and free 30 crew members of the Greenpeace ship 'Arctic Sunrise'.

The group faces piracy charges after being by arrested Russian troops last month during a protest at an oil platform against drilling in the Arctic. A Dutch government statement said it was asking for the release of the detained crew and the Greenpeace ship before the German-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

'Because the Netherlands find that the ship's release and the freeing of the crew is an urgent matter, it has now decided on this step,' it said.

The activists from 18 different countries are being held in the northern Russian city of Murmansk before another court hearing in November.

Piracy carries a 15 year sentence in Russia.

Australian, Colin Russell, a Tasmanian marine radio operator, was among the crew charged with piracy. He was refused bail by the Regional Court of Murmansk in Russia on Thursday local time, Greenpeace said in a statement.

His wife Christine said she was worried about her husband's welfare.

'He's in a cell 23 hours a day; the food is poor and he's lost weight,' she said in a statement. 'The frustrating thing is having no personal contact.'

Greenpeace, with its headquarters based in Amsterdam, has welcomed what it termed the 'unusual step' by the Dutch government.

'Greenpeace applauds the Dutch government for taking these very important steps,' said Greenpeace International's Jasper Teulings.

'However, it will likely take about four weeks before the Tribunal announces the verdict,' he added, calling on all governments involved to work to speed up the process.

During the September 18 protest, several activists scaled the oil platform in the Barents Sea to denounce Russia's plans to drill in the Arctic.

Russian border guards then lowered themselves onto the Dutch-flagged Arctic Sunrise from a helicopter, locked up the crew and towed the ship to Murmansk, located nearly 2,000 kilometres north of Moscow.

President Vladimir Putin has said that in his opinion the activists were not pirates but had breached international law by getting dangerously close to the oil rig.

More at www.greenpeace.org/australia