* Norwegian police cannot board until rig starts drilling
* Unclear when drilling could resume -Statoil
* 15 are activists on board
(Adds police, Statoil, Greenpeace)
By Gwladys Fouche and Balazs Koranyi
OSLO, May 27 Greenpeace activists boarded an oil
rig in the Norwegian Arctic on Tuesday to try to stop
exploration plans in the far north, and Norwegian police said
they were powerless to intervene until drilling starts.
The Statoil rig, which is registered in the
Marshall Islands, is in international waters some 23 nautical
miles (43 km) from its planned drilling site in the Barents Sea.
As long as drilling does not begin, Norwegian police have no
"When the rig is in movement, it is considered a ship. When
the rig begins to drill it is considered a rig on the Norwegian
continental shelf. Then we can safeguard Norwegian oil and gas
interests," Ole Saeverud, chief of police for Troms police
district in northern Norway, told Reuters.
He declined to say what action police may be preparing. The
Norwegian coastguard currently has one vessel near the rig.
Statoil, which is owned by the Norwegian state, denounced
Greenpeace's actions as illegal and irresponsible.
Greenpeace, which regularly calls Statoil an 'Arctic
aggressor', said plans to drill in the Hoop area of the Barents
Sea threaten Bear Island, an uninhabited wildlife sanctuary
which is home to rare species and occasionally to polar bears.
Oil firms are drilling further north in Norway than ever as
the Arctic ice retreats and recent regulation changes let firms
work in areas where winter ice was common just decades ago.
Statoil said it was unclear when normal operations could
resume. "We can't say anything about when we could be up and
running," company spokesman Oerjan Heradstveit told Reuters.
Greenpeace climbed the rig, owned by Transocean, in
the early morning hours, hung banners such as 'No Arctic Oil'
and 'Stop Statoil's Arctic Race', and said they were prepared to
stay on the rig for days.
"There are 15 activists on board. Some are attached on the
outer structure of the rig, some are on board the rig,"
Greenpeace Norway chief Truls Gulowsen told Reuters. "Everything
is very calm.
"Statoil has offered for the activists to be moved to shore.
We have said 'no thanks'," he said.
Statoil said it was very worried about the safety of the
"Some of them have chained themselves underneath the deck.
The temperature was 2 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit)
earlier today," said the Statoil's Heradstveit. "They could fall
in the water, under the propeller."
The move by Greenpeace comes just weeks after the group
unsuccessfully tried in Rotterdam to block the delivery of
Russia's first oil from its Prirazlomanaya oil platform in the
Arctic Pechora Sea.
The platform was briefly occupied by Greenpeace activists
last year before they were arrested by Russian military forces
and charged with piracy, carrying a potential prison term of
decades, but released under an amnesty initiated by President
Statoil rejected Greenpeace's claims about safety. "Hoop is
an area with known geology, low pressure and temperature, and
where Statoil has robust plans for the operations.
"An oil spill is very unlikely: at the same time we have put
in place a number of barriers to be able to handle a situation
should it occur," the company said.
The rig is currently in transit to the Hoop area where it
has permission to start drilling in the Apollo prospect.
However, it cannot drill into oil-bearing rock because a
complaint from Greenpeace is pending.
(Editing by Greg Mahlich/Ruth Pitchford)