(EnergyAsia, March 20 2014, Thursday) — Greenpeace has welcomed the European Parliament’s resolution calling for the establishment of a protected area around the North Pole that could ban oil companies and industrial fishing fleets from the region.

The environmental long group said the move represents a clear break from the positions of Arctic Council members such as Norway, Denmark, Canada and Russia who have resisted calls for permanent protection of the planet’s northernmost region.

“Finland, another Arctic state, recently adopted the sanctuary proposal as official policy,” said Greenpeace, which is leading an international campaign to stop the Arctic’s exploitation.

It added that a group of its activists, known as the Arctic 30, has applied to the European Court of Human Rights to sue the Russian government for wrongfully arresting and detaining them last year following their protest action to stop Russian gas giant Gazprom exploring in a sensitive part of the region.

In its resolution, the European Parliament stressed the need for a binding agreement on pollution prevention at the Arctic Council, an international forum criticised by environmentalists for its closeness to the oil industry.

According to Greenpeace, previous voluntary agreements on oil spill readiness lack enforceability.

It expects the resolution to push the Arctic more firmly onto the agenda of EU foreign ministers and EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, who have so far been reluctant to speak out against the rapid industrialisation of the region by international oil companies including Shell, BP and Gazprom.

A Greenpeace activist and Arctic 30 member, Sini Saarela from Finland, said:

“What happens in the Arctic matters to us all. I’m delighted by this news because it will spark a new conversation that we need to have together. By calling for a sanctuary around the North Pole, MEPs have responded to the millions of people who want to protect the Arctic for future generations.

“This is a direct challenge to the small group of countries who are rushing to open up the fragile Arctic for oil drilling and industrial fishing. The status quo is starting to crack, and this now demands a real response from those who see the melting Arctic simply as a new source of profit.”

The Arctic 30 were arrested last September and imprisoned for two months on charges of piracy and hooliganism before receiving amnesty from the Russian Parliament.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the group described their arrest as “an abduction by armed Russian security agents in international waters” and subsequent imprisonment for a peaceful protest as a breach of two key provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights in which Russia is a signatory.

One of the Arctic 30’s lawyers, Sergey Golubok, said:

“We think the Arctic 30 were apprehended and detained in flagrant violation of applicable international and Russian laws, and that’s why we have submitted a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights.

“The reaction of the Russian authorities was completely disproportionate to the peaceful protest that took place. These activists tried to shine a light on the risks of Arctic oil drilling, and yet they were met with a response that bore no relation to their actions.”

They are seeking compensation for the damages they suffered “as a result of being unlawfully detained and costs and expenses associated with defending their cases in Russia and bring their case to the European Court.”

Greenpeace said its ship, Arctic Sunrise, remains in detention in Murmansk after it was towed to the Russian port city last September.

Last week, a St Petersburg court denied Greenpeace International’s formal petition to seek access to the ship, which has been left in freezing waters, to determine whether necessary maintenance has been conducted after the arrest of the ship and during the ongoing investigation.

Covering one of the world’s largest untouched expanses of wilderness, the Arctic has become the latest frontier in the intensifying global competition for natural resources.

Apart from its rich stock of fish and marine life, countries are eyeing what they believe is the region’s huge reserves of oil, gas and minerals that are becoming available as a result of improving technology and melting glaciers.