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Relatives of Arctic 30 watch and wait

Phil Ball is one of the "Arctic 30" activists who were arrested over a protest against Arctic oil drilling. But what's it like for the relatives of the activists, watching and waiting for news at home?

The Greenpeace activists were detained in Russia on charges of hooliganism after taking part in a protest on an Arctic offshore oil rig operated in international waters by the Russian company Gazprom. The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea will deliver its order on the case on Friday, November 22. It is expected to call for immediate release of the detainees and their ship.

Russian authorities will not attend that hearing - but in an apparent about-turn, most of the Arctic 30 have been given bail orders this week - to their and their relatives' great joy. Despite this, it seems unlikely that the activists will be able to return home before the trial.

DW's Inside Europe wondered what it has been like for relatives waiting and watching anxiously for news to filter out. Emma Wallis spoke to Steve Ball on Wednesday, November 20 and started by watching a video of his brother Phil Ball before he borded the Arctic Sunrise, in which he explained his commitment to the cause but also the difficulties he faced in being away from his family for even two weeks.

DW: Was it difficult watching your brother after having not seen him for so long?

Steve Ball: When he left we fully expected him to be back within a fortnight and here we are, more than 60 days later, and he's still being kept away from his family. But at least we were luckier than most of the family members of the other detainees, who only had one phone call. And we do get a reasonably good supply of letters.

Phil is the father of three children. The situation must be extremely hard for them as they are still quite little, aren't they?

In this photo released by Greenpeace International and made Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise is docked in the port of Murmansk, Russia. The Arctic Sunrise was seized nearly four weeks ago by Russian security forces after some activists tried to scale an offshore oil platform. Russian investigators charged the entire 30-member crew of the Greenpeace ship with piracy for a protest at a Russian oil platform in the Arctic. (AP Photo/Greenpeace International, Dmitri Sharomov) PHOTO PROVIDED BY GREENPEACE INTERNATIONAL. AP PROVIDES ACCESS TO THIS HANDOUT PHOTO TO BE USED SOLELY TO ILLUSTRATE NEWS REPORTING OR COMMENTARY ON THE FACTS OR EVENTS DEPICTED IN THIS IMAGE. PHOTO MADE FRIDAY, OCT. 18, 2013

The "Arctic Sunrise" has been held in port by Russian authorities

Yes, they're three-and-a-half up to nearly nine years old, and it is really hard for them. It's nothing they have ever had to face before. I think the smallest one obviously doesn't really understand what's happening and just keeps occasionally saying: "Where's daddy gone? Can we go and get him?'" The older two are coping with the situation but it is hard for them to get their head around it and to understand why this is going on.

Phil said he wanted to do something for the next generation. As a family, do you understand the need that drove him to go and protest about things like this?

Yes, very profoundly so. He and I spend exciting evenings into the night chatting about climate science. We've both studied climate change intensively and so we've got a very deep idea what it is and what needs to be done to counter it.

The UN this week said, to avoid catastrophic and irreversible climate change we have to leave 80 percent of fossil fuel reserves in the ground - but that isn't happening. We've known that for 20 years and our nation's leaders have done virtually nothing; or at least nothing significant, and that is why Phil had to go out and put himself at this risk and leave his family. He's had the commitment to do that and I'm very proud of him for that.

What has it been like this week watching as some of the activists have been released on bail even though the terms and conditions of this bail is yet unclear as we speak on Wednesday?

The whole thing has been just a massive conjecture with just shadows of understanding right from the beginning. We've just been trying to work out what's happening. '"Someone is getting bail" has been the most concrete that we've had. But does that mean we can go and visit them? Does that mean house arrest in a warehouse somewhere which is all but the same as the prison? We don't know - but at least it gives us hope.

Detention center - 1 (SIZO-1), Kresty, St.Petersburg, Russia The Arctic 30 were recently transferred from Murmansk to St. Petersburg. The Arctic 30 (28 Greenpeace International activists and a freelance photographer and a freelance videographer) are currently detained by Russian authorities and have been refused bail. They are still charged with both piracy and hooliganism. No official confirmation has been given by the Russian authorities that the charge of piracy has been dropped, which carry a maximum sentence of 15 and 7 years, respectively. Fotograf: Greenpeace Wann: 17.11.2013 Wo: Detention center - 1 (SIZO-1), Kresty, St.Petersburg, Russia

The "Arctic 30" were recently transferred from Murmansk to St. Petersburg and are held in this detention center

And then we heard one has been bailed and one has been given three months detention with no bail, with no apparent distinction between them. So obviously all the families must have their hopes and fears going up and down like yoyos - just not knowing which batch their loved one is going to fall into.

You've obviously been following this very closely. What did you feel when you saw videos of the commandos arriving on the ship?

The first thing I heard was just that Greenpeace activists had been met with force at the oil rig, so it took a while to look into it and see what had gone on. And then of course you start seeing the video footage and there are guys with machine guns, machine guns being fired, boats being attacked with knives - and they're obviously inflatable boats so you can sink them with a knife. Realizing the violence of it and not knowing whether anyone was hurt or shot was really frightening.

Then we heard they were off and back on the Arctic Sunrise and our heartbeats started to slow. But then of course we heard there was a commando attack, people coming down ropes with guns and attacking and taking over a peaceful ship in international waters, which is so scary. But then of course we faded on from the physical confrontation point and then it's become this awful waiting game of studying a confusing and bizarre legal procedure.

Russian Security Services Seize Arctic Sunrise. Photograph taken on the 19th September with camera phone off a computer screen. The images show Russian security services abseiling from a helicopter onto the deck of the Arctic Sunrise and seizing the ship at gunpoint following an attempt by five Greenpeace International activists to climb the 'Prirazlomnaya', an oil platform operated by Russian energy giant Gazprom, in the Pechora Sea. The activists were there to peacefully protest against Arctic oil drilling.

On September 19, Russian security services seized the Arctic Sunrise at gunpoint

What are your hopes at the moment with the hearings coming up next week?

We understood that according to the Russian system, they have to put a detention order in to keep people whilst they prepare a prosecution case, and that's usually in two-month steps. So he had one two-month step and we expected another two months detention to run into Christmas. Fingers crossed they'd then let them out before the Olympics to avoid bad publicity. But no, they're all getting bail along with a further three months detention. That takes them right into the Olympics and right through Christmas and to a large extent dashes our hope to see them back for Christmas.

Would you or your brother do anything like this again?

His letters in the early days said sort of "What the hell am I doing here, what have I gotten myself into?" and you can almost imagine him tearful writing it. But since then there is his cocky sense of humor and cheek creeping back and intense anger about what they've gone out to do and the ridiculous response and the amateurishness of the commandos and the way they worked.

Members of environmental group Greenpeace release 30 white doves for each of the 'Arctic 30' Greenpeace activists detained in a Russian jail, during a protest that marks the 30th day of their imprisonment calling for their immediate release, in Manila on October 18, 2013. The Russian authorities have charged the 30 crew members with piracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years, after they staged a protest against Arctic oil drilling last month. AFP PHOTO/NOEL CELIS (Photo credit should read NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Greenpeace has kept up a steady campaign during the detention of the 30

I think his partner might have the deciding vote to be honest. She'd be reluctant to see him risk anything like this again. In fact so would he, I'm sure. He'll fight clear of a likely arrest trip like this but he will, by no means, stop being active.

I was scrolling through my brother's photos on his Facebook account last night, and there is a picture of Einstein and a quote saying: "The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil but by those who watch them without doing anything." We're all going under and the damage will come within our lifetimes unless there is a profound turnaround and the stuff [fossil fuel] is left in the ground. On current burning rates, if Phil gets a piracy charge, we will have burned enough in 16 years' time and committed to the end of society a year after he gets out; so we're that close to the edge.

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