A North Devon journalist has become one the first of a group of 30 campaigners to be charged with piracy after a Greenpeace protest at an Arctic oil rig in Russia.
Freelance videographer Keiron Bryan, from Shebbear, was one of six Britons held when officials boarded their vessel, the Arctic Sunrisetwo weeks ago.
Maritime engineer Iain Rogers, 37 and from Exeter, is also being held and is also expected to be charged.
If convicted members of the group could face a maximum sentence of up to 15 years in jail.
Greenpeace has described the charges as “extreme and disproportionate” and says it faces the most serious threat to its “peaceful environmental activism” since French secret service agents bombed the ship Rainbow Warrior in 1985.
The group’s international executive director Kumi Naidoo said: “Any claim that these activists are pirates is as absurd as it is abominable.
“It is utterly irrational, it is designed to intimidate and silence us, but we will not be cowed.”
Armed men in balaclavas descended by helicopter onto the Greenpeace ship, which was in international waters at the time, on September 18.
The boat and protesters were taken from the Arctic’s Pechora sea, near to oil company Gazprom’s platform, to the port of Murmansk.
It took Russian authorities five days to tow the boat to the port of Murmansk after the captain refused to drive it.
On Thursday, September 27, the crew appeared in the Leninsky district Court of Murmansk with no charges made against them.
Russian state prosecutors yesterday began to lay charges against the group.
Investigators have said the activists’ actions posed a threat to the personal security of staff and property at the Prirazlomnaya platform by breaching a 500metre exclusion zone, according to Russia Today.
Greenpeace says the Arctic Sunrise did not breach the zone, adding that the inflatable boats “used for the peaceful protest” did get close to the oil rig, but were of no danger to the platform, which is placed on a steel basement in order to protect it from ice.
Mr Bryan’s parents, Andy and Ann Bryan, from Shebbear, have described their son as “a very kind, caring individual” who has environmental issues “very close to his heart”.
Mr Rogers’ mother, Sue Rogers, says her son is not an activist, but the ship’s engineer, though he shares the group’s philosophy.
She said she has only had a two or three minute phone call from her son, but says the group “appeared to be well treated”.
She added:“He sounded quite upbeat and reassured me he was okay.
“Greenpeace briefed everyone before they set off on the campaign so everyone was aware of the risk of arrest.
“When images of them at court came out Iain was standing there with a great big paperback, so I think as long as he’s given fresh air and allowed to read, he’ll be okay.”
Greenpeace is campaigning against attempts by companies to drill for oil in the waters of the Arctic.
Gazprom’s plans to start drilling from the Prirazlomnaya platform in 2014 raised the risk of an oil spill in an area that contains three nature reserves protected by Russian law, campaigners say.