Russia, respect international law. Release the Arctic 30!


A deadline for lodging a progress report in compliance with an international court ruling ordering the release of a Greenpeace ship and its 30 crew members has so far been met with silence from the Russian Federation.

In a case lodged by the Netherlands, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) last month ordered Russia to release the Dutch-flagged ship Arctic Sunrise and its crew upon posting of a €3.6 million bond in the form of a bank guarantee by the Dutch government.

On Monday, the Dutch Foreign Ministry informed the ITLOS that it had finalised the bank guarantee, fulfilling its part of the order.

All eyes are now on Russia and its response to the Hamburg-based court.

Russia, however, has so far refused to participate in the tribunal proceedings, invoking an exemption Moscow added to its 1997 ratification of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

It neither attended the hearings on 6 November, nor the 22 November 22, leaving empty desks in a tribunal chamber presided over by 21 international judges.

Later, in its initial response to the order, Russia stated that "it will study the Tribunal ruling carefully and formulate a response."

Although Russia did not participate in the ITLOS proceedings, this does not alter the fact that it is under an obligation to comply with a ruling from the court, which extensively reviewed theRussian reservation argument and discarded it.

Tribunal rulings are binding to any party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea – including Russia.

The Russian Federation will be in breach of its obligations to international law and in breach of its own constitution if it does not release the ship and the Arctic 30.



In September, Russian security agents illegally boarded the Arctic Sunrise in international waters and seized the ship at gunpoint following a peaceful Arctic oil protest at Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya drilling platform.

The ship was then towed to Murmansk where the 28 Greenpeace International activists and two freelance journalists with charged with piracy and later hooliganism.

In lodging its case at the Hamburg Tribunal, the Netherlands as flag state of the Arctic Sunrise argued that Russia had no right to board and detain the vessel and that the detention is a serious violation of the individuals’ right to liberty and security.

International legal experts have broadly agreed the piracy charges held no merit in international or Russian law. They were joined by maritime unions such as the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots (MM&P) and Nautilus International who each voiced their concerns over the piracy charges and the detention of the Arctic 30.

Although it has become clear the Investigative Committee no longer intends to pursue the piracy charges, the Arctic 30 are still charged with hooliganism and face a maximum seven years in prison.

Moreover, since being granted bail by St Petersburg courts, they are unable to leave the country and wait for Russia to comply with the ITLOS order.

This case is being closely watched by the shipping and fishing industries, while Russia’s potential non-compliance to the ITLOS order would bring legal and political repercussions that could undermine confidence in the dispute resolution system under UNCLOS and international maritime law.



In the past, Russia has participated actively in both ITLOS and International Court of Justice proceedings.

In 2002, Russia used ITLOS to obtain the prompt release of one of its vessels (the Volga) that had been detained by Australia.

If Russia ignores the Tribunal’s ruling ordering the release of the Arctic Sunrise, what will happen in future cases if Russia initiates ITLOS proceedings against other states?

A strong international dispute system relies on parties that have undersigned it to adhere to the outcomes of it.

Donald Rothwell, Professor of International Law at the Australian National University summarised it well in a recent opinion piece on Australia’s ABC news website:

“Russia cannot … pick and choose when it will and will not abide by the law of the sea. As a leading international citizen, it has a clear obligation to follow the Tribunal’s ruling and release the Arctic Sunrise and its crew and to allow them to leave Russia.”

We at Greenpeace are therefore hopeful that Russia, after careful deliberation of the order, will fully comply by releasing the Arctic Sunrise and the Arctic 30 as soon as possible.