Detained Nelson man 'OK'

DOWN TO BUSINESS: David Haussmann at work as an electrician on-board the MY Arctic Sunrise.
DOWN TO BUSINESS: David Haussmann at work as an electrician on-board the MY Arctic Sunrise.

Nelson man David Haussmann who was among the Greenpeace crew arrested at gunpoint off the Russian coast last month, was being held in a Russian prison and understood to be "OK", but had not had any contact with the rest of the ship's crew, his partner Sarah Watson said.

She had expected him home later this month to begin preparations for the arrival of their second child early next year.

Watson said she had had three brief and indirect messages from Mr Haussmann since the events of September 18, when armed Russian coast guard officials abseiled from a helicopter hovering over the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, boarded it, then towed it to the port of Severmorsk, near Murmansk, with the crew and activists aboard.

The 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists who were arrested on the ship face piracy charges, and pleaded not guilty at a recent court appearance. They faced being detained until at least late November while Russian authorities carried out further investigations.

Australian-based Kiwi Jon Beauchamp was the other New Zealander on the ship.

Watson had started to get a feel for how her partner was through contact with various foreign consular staff who had passed on brief "one-liners" to say Haussmann was OK, and for her not to worry.

She received a letter this week that was scanned off a note he had written over the course of several days, and taken out by a lawyer, which indicated Mr Haussmann had been moved about since his arrest and that he initially did not know where they were, but was now in a facility in Murmansk.

"He has not seen any of the other Greenpeace people since he's been there.

"He's in a cell with a Russian guy and they're let out for an hour once a day," Watson said.

Haussmann was the electrical engineer aboard the Arctic Sunrise, which was involved in what Greenpeace said was a peaceful protest against Russia's Prirazlomnoye oil platform in Barents Sea.

The Greenpeace ship approached the oil platform owned by the Russian energy giant Gazprom on September 18, despite orders from the Russian Border Guard Service not to do so. Two activists then attempted to climb up the oil platform, which is the first commercial offshore oil well in the Arctic.

Artur Akopov, the chief manager on board the Prirazlomnaya rig at the time, told foreign media that the activists posed a threat to the structure's safety.

The environmental campaign group has condemned the detention of its activists, saying they were taking part in a peaceful protest against the "slow but unrelenting destruction of the Arctic".

The Russian Coastguard initially fired 11 warning shots over the bow of the activist ship, according to Greenpeace reports.

The next day, the coast guard seized the Arctic Sunrise by sending about 15 armed and masked FSB agents down rappelling ropes on to the deck of the ship. Greenpeace said the later claim that Russian authorities had found drugs on the vessel "is a smear, it's a fabrication, pure and simple".

Watson, who worked and sailed for Greenpeace for about 13 years before the birth of the couple's first child, said Greenpeace workers knew the risks of the role, but this was "unprecedented".

"People know what they're getting into but never would you expect to see armed guys abseil from a helicopter and take a ship.

"It's a very extreme and unusual reaction to what was a peaceful process," Watson said.

The government in the Netherlands - where the Arctic Sunrise is registered - wrote to the Dutch parliament last week to say it has launched legal action aimed at freeing the 30 under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea. Two of those held are Dutch citizens.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has signalled to foreign media that the piracy charges were too severe, but lauded the Coast Guard for intercepting the vessel.

Watson said while it was common for Greenpeace workers to be called activists, in this case Haussmann was doing his job as the ship's electrical engineer.

She said the whole thing was "madness", and that the word from New Zealand Government and diplomatic officials was to "let it run its course". Watson has also met with Nelson MP Nick Smith.

"The Government doesn't want to interfere in the judicial process, meanwhile governments of some of the other detainees have given bail guarantees for their citizens," Watson said. "My whole point was that these guys have been charged with piracy which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail, not aggravated trespass."

She was hoping for a diplomatic resolution and that the two month detention period until November 24 while Russian authorities investigated further, would be considered punishment enough.

Smith could not be reached for comment.

The Nelson Mail