Greenpeace has signalled its determination to try to halt the Kremlin’s march into the Arctic with activists led by its executive director boarding an oil platform belonging to state-owned Gazprom.

It is the first time that the green group has taken “direct action” against the Russian drilling and comes amid alarming new evidence about the speed with which Arctic sea ice is melting.

Six environmentalists in inflatable boats launched from Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise ship approached the Prirazlomnaya rig 960km east of Murmansk and used mooring lines to climb the rig and attach a “portaledge” to the side of it.

Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of the green group unfurled a banner in Russian reading “Save the Arctic!” before the crew of the Russian platform attacked them with water hoses.

“Like Shell’s reckless plans to drill in Alaska, it’s not a question of if an oil spill will happen, but when. The only way to prevent a catastrophic oil spill happening in this unique environment is to permanently ban all drilling now,” said Mr. Naidoo.

Gazprom Neft Shelf, the subsidiary that holds the licence for the field, said the Greenpeace activists were invited to come on board for a “constructive dialogue” but they declined. The campaigners later called off the protest. Russia has recently signed Arctic agreements with western firms such as ExxonMobil. The Prirazlomnaya is an all-Russian pioneering venture that hopes to start producing hydrocarbons from next summer. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2012

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