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OSLO (Reuters) - A Greenpeace ship arrived on Thursday at the Arctic site where Norway's Statoil is planning to drill the world's most northerly oil well, with the company's rig just hours away from its destination.
Earlier in the day, Norwegian police had removed seven Greenpeace protesters who had boarded the rig to stop it getting to the Barents Sea and Bear Island, an uninhabited wildlife sanctuary which is home to rare species, including polar bears.
Greenpeace, which calls Statoil an "Arctic aggressor", want to stop oil firms drilling further north than ever as the Arctic ice retreats and a relaxing of the law allows companies to work in areas where winter ice was common just decades ago.
"The Greenpeace ship Esperanza is blocking the arrival of Statoil's Transocean Spitsbergen oil rig in the Arctic by occupying the exact location where the company plans to drill the world's northernmost well," the group said a statement.
The activists - from Denmark, Finland, Norway, the Philippines and Sweden - taken off the rig were released without charge and were all well, Greenpeace's Truls Gulowsen said.
One Finnish woman among them had been in the group of 30 Greenpeace activists detained by Russian authorities for two months for climbing aboard an Arctic oil rig last September.
The Statoil rig will not be able to start full drilling operations until Norway's government decides on a Greenpeace appeal against it.
"Statoil has a permit to start the drilling operations, but awaits a final decision on a Greenpeace appeal to the Norwegian Ministry of climate and environment before drilling into oil-bearing layers," said the firm.
It is unclear how long the appeal could take.
Editing by Louise Ireland