Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise ship arrived home to a warm welcome in The Netherlands on Saturday, almost a year after it was seized by Russia during a protest against Arctic oil drilling.
“It’s great to have her back,” veteran Greenpeace skipper Pete Willcox, who captained the ship at the time of the seizure, told AFP by telephone.
“We were missing a big member of our family for many months,” he said.
Dozens of well-wishers, many waving Greenpeace’s rainbow flag and posters saying “Welcome Home”, cheered the ship as it arrived at a quayside in Amsterdam.
Russian commandoes seized the Dutch-flagged Arctic Sunrise in September 2013 and detained 30 Greenpeace activists and journalists after a protest at an offshore oil rig owned by Russian state oil giant Gazprom.
Russia released the ship in June and it then took around a month to get it seaworthy for the trip back to The Netherlands, with Greenpeace saying equipment including navigation and communication aids “disappeared or had been severely damaged”.
The activists, including four Russians, were arrested after two campaigners attempted to scale the giant Prirazlomnaya offshore platform, which environmentalists warned poses a threat to the pristine Arctic ecology.
Originally facing a charge of piracy, the so-called “Arctic 30” were later targeted with less severe hooliganism accusations.
They were detained for around two months before being bailed and then benefitting from a Kremlin-backed amnesty.
Greenpeace is suing Russia before the European Court of Human Rights for what it says was the illegal detention of its activists, arguing that it breached their right to freedom of expression.
The Arctic Sunrise meanwhile had been towed to the Arctic port of Murmansk in northwestern Russia where it was detained.
It finally left Murmansk just over a week ago after a Greenpeace crew worked around the clock to repair some of the damage done to the ship.
“Once welcomed in Amsterdam, the Arctic Sunrise will head straight for the shipyard for much-needed repairs,” Greenpeace said in a statement.
“We expect to get a damage estimate within the next two weeks,” the environmental group added.
“The idea is to re-install the electronics and get her going again,” said Willcox, who was also in charge of the environmental group’s Rainbow Warrior ship when French agents sank it in Auckland harbour in 1985 as it prepared to lead anti-nuclear protests.
“I think she’ll be back out campaigning in about a month, maybe six weeks,” Willcox said.
After the ship arrived in Beverwijk port on Saturday, more than half of the Arctic 30 got on board for the festive entry into nearby Amsterdam harbour.
They drank a ceremonial cup of tea made in a samovar, a Russian teapot that was a gift from Russian supporters, Greenpeace said.