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Greenpeace detainees arrive in St. Petersburg

The 30 people arrested in a Greenpeace demonstration by Russian authorities have arrived in St. Petersburg after their transfer from the Arctic Circle city of Murmansk. The detainees face up to seven years in prison.

All aboard the Greenpeace-owned, Dutch-flagged vessel ‘The Arctic Sunrise', the detainees were arrested on September 18 after staging a protest outside of an Arctic oil rig owned by Russia's state energy giant Gazprom.

The group - made up of 28 activists and the British videographer and Russian photographer employed by the environment agency - initially faced charges of piracy that could have carried sentences of up to 15 years. Russia's Investigative Committee said in October it would downgrade the charges to hooliganism, although Greenpeace claim the piracy charges have not been formally lifted.

Russia has not given an official reason for the transfer, though German news agency dpa said Russian investigators indicated on Monday that Murmansk courts was not equipped to handle the case.

"All 30 charged in the criminal case ... have arrived at St. Petersburg detention centres. There have been no complaints or requests from these people," the city's prison service said in a statement.

The journey of the ‘Arctic 30' ended in St. Petersburg on Tuesday at around 12 noon local time, following a 24-hour train journey from Murmansk. They will face a regulation quarantine period - in which they are unable to access legal counsel - before being transferred to detention centers.

Their detention sparked widespread condemnaton, with the Netherlands seeking their release via Hamburg's International Tribune for the Law of the Sea (ITLS).

"This is a new chapter in the story of the Arctic 30, but it's still the same story,” Greenpeace International Arctic campaigner Ben Ayliffe said on Tuesday via a statement.

“They are innocent men and women in jail on trumped up charges, threatened with long term prison sentences for a crime they didn't commit ... They saw that oil platform as a threat to a fragile, beautiful environment. They protested peacefully, driven by their convictions, and for that they are being unjustly punished. They should be released immediately.”

The Greenpeace statement also confirmed a legal team for the 30 detainees, hailing from 19 different countries, was on standby in St. Petersburg.

It has not been revealed to which detention centers those arrested would be moved. Prison conditions are not known to be any better in Russia's second-biggest city, but St. Petersburg does at least offer easier access for lawyers and family members.

Greenpeace claims the two-month detention period imposed on the detainees ends on November 24, with the Investigative Committee required to make an application no more than a week in advance of that date in order to extend that.

ph/jr (AP, dpa, AFP)