Hamburg (AFP) – An international maritime court Friday ordered Russia to immediately release a Greenpeace protest ship and its 30-strong crew seized mid-September in exchange for a 3.6-million-euro ($4.9-million) bond.
The German-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, based in the northern port city of Hamburg, also called on Moscow to allow the detainees and vessel to leave Russia on receipt of the bond.
The ruling by the tribunal, established by the United Nations to help settle maritime disputes between states, followed a complaint by the Netherlands.
Russia did not attend the proceedings and immediately after the ruling declared that the case fell outside the court’s jurisdiction.
The court ordered the Netherlands to post the bond or other financial security.
Russian coastguards boarded the Dutch-flagged Arctic Sunrise icebreaker on September 19, arresting the crew members, who included activists from 18 countries and two journalists, initially charging them with piracy.
The tribunal “ordered that the vessel Arctic Sunrise and all persons detained in connection with the dispute be released and allowed to leave the territory and maritime areas under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation upon the posting of a bond in the amount of 3.6 million euros,” a statement summarizing the verdict said.
Moscow’s angry response to the protest incident when two Greenpeace activists scaled a state-owned Gazprom oil platform to protest at Russian oil exploration in the Arctic sparked an international outcry.
Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo welcomed the ruling, calling it an “historic day.”
“These 30 men and women were detained only because they stood up and courageously took peaceful action against Arctic oil drilling and to halt the devastating impacts of climate change,” he said in a statement.
Russia earlier Friday wrapped up bail hearings and ruled to release all but one of the 30 Greenpeace crew members. Bail has been granted to 29 members, 26 of whom have been released, while one, an Australian, has been detained until February.
Among the 15 to be freed on Friday was veteran U.S. captain of the Greenpeace ship, Peter Willcox.
The Russian authorities agreed to free the activists after Greenpeace paid bail of two million rubles ($60,750) for each.
They still face jail terms of up to seven years if found guilty of hooliganism.
Naidoo said that, while the ruling went “a long way towards rectifying the great injustice” against the “Arctic 30,” it was not enough.
“Twenty-nine have now been granted bail by Russian courts, but this is not enough. This Tribunal has clearly stated that all 30 should be free to leave Russia until the arbitral proceedings have been concluded,” he said.
The Hamburg tribunal’s judgments are binding but if not complied with, the court has no other means of enforcing them, a spokeswoman said.