Greenpeace Arctic protest "unlawfully" stopped by Norwegian Authorities

Peaceful Assembly

A protest at sea by environmental activist group Greenpeace ended when Norwegian authorities boarded the ship Arctic Sunrise and arrested its crew on 17th August 2017. The vessel had traveled to a location in the Barents Sea to protest new oil drilling by the Songa Enabler oil rig owned by Statoil. The protest - part of which involved four activists paddling out in kayaks alongside the rig with a giant globe - intended to highlight the environmental damage that continued oil drilling will do to the environment in the Arctic and globally. It also sought to highlight the Norwegian government's complicity in granting the drilling license to Statoil, something Greenpeace considers "a violation of Norway’s duty under its own Constitution and its commitments under the Paris Agreement”.

The activists were successful at interrupting the rig's operations, but after several hours of protest the Norwegian Coastguard boarded the Arctic Sunrise, arrested those on board and towed the vessel back to port. Truls Gulowsen, head of Greenpeace Norway, believes that the coastguards acted unlawfully:

“The Norwegian coast guard doesn’t have the right to board or remove our ship. Protest at sea is an internationally recognized lawful use of the sea, related to the freedom of navigation. We are taking action against Arctic drilling in an area where our rights to protest are protected under international law. The Norwegian government cannot unjustifiably interfere with that right”.

The ship and its crew were released four days later at the port of Tromsø in northern Norway. Six Greenpeace activists were fined for breaching the security zone around the oil rig. Despite the authorities' reaction, Greenpeace is planning to continue its fight against the drilling, and are now taking the Norwegian government to court, arguing that granting new oil licenses violates Article 112 of Norway's constitution which guarantees the right to a safe and healthy environment.


Norway's digital freedom watchdogs raised the alarm in June when the parliament approved new rules allowing police to compel the use of biometric authentication to gain access to any "electronic system". An unofficial English translation of the revisions to the criminal code reads:

“When searching an electronic system the police can demand from anyone with connection to the system the necessary information to gain access to the system or open it by biometric authentication. If anyone refuses a demand for biometric authentication...the police may perform the authentication by force".

The changes have raised concerns among electronic freedom and privacy advocates in Norway, some of whom believe that the very wide scope of the term "electronic system" means that in some situations police would be able to access the full details of a person's life, merely because of the fact that they are connected to that system, and not because they are suspected of any crime. There are also concerns about how the phrase "by force" may be interpreted by police when an individual refuses to consent to have their eye scanned or thumbprint taken.