THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Netherlands asked an international tribunal Monday to order Russia to release a Greenpeace protest ship and the activists who were on board.
Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said the government made the request to the Hamburg, Germany-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
A group of 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists have been held since their ship, the "Arctic Sunrise" was seized by the Russian coast guard after a protest near a Gazprom-owned oil rig on Sept. 18.
The activists are being held in the northern Russian city of Murmansk. They have been charged with piracy, an offense that carries a 15-year sentence in Russia.
Timmermans said the request was a procedural step in an arbitration case the Dutch launched two weeks ago seeking to free the activists and their ship, which sails under the Dutch flag.
He told reporters in Luxembourg "it will come as no surprise to the Russian Federation" that the Dutch have now asked for the tribunal to order the release pending a final decision in the case.
In a statement, Greenpeace International welcomed the Dutch initiative and called on other governments whose nationals are among the detained activists "to step up their work to ensure the immediate release of the detainees."
The tribunal the Dutch are turning to adjudicates in disputes arising from interpretation and application of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The wife of the "Arctic Sunrise" captain said Monday that she had spoken with her husband for the first time since the ship was seized last month .
Maggy Willcox, of Norwalk, Connecticut, told The Hour of Norwalk newspaper that she spoke briefly with her husband, Peter Willcox on Monday morning.
"He sounds strong and positive and he said the people around him were treating him well," she said.
Maggy Willcox said during the three- to four-minute call, her husband reported doing pushups and yoga in his prison cell.
"He's a vegetarian. He said he's been straining meat out of everything, so he's lost weight, which he's pleased about," she said.
She said he sounded so upbeat, it "put a little starch in our own backbone."
Timmermans said it would likely take about a month for the international tribunal to reach a decision on the request.
"That's what we're pinning our hopes on at this point," Maggy Willcox said.
Associated Press writer Raf Casert contributed to this story from Luxembourg.