By Thomas Escritt

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The head of Greenpeace offered on Wednesday to move to Russia and stand as security for the release on bail of 30 people who were detained and charged with piracy by Russian authorities after protesting against oil drilling in the Arctic.

The offer was made in a letter written by Kumi Naidoo to Russian President Vladimir Putin that was seen by Reuters and sent on Wednesday. It follows a Russian court's decision to refuse bail to three of the detainees.

"I would offer myself as a guarantor for the good conduct of the Greenpeace activists, were they to be released on bail," he wrote in the letter, in which he offered to "move (his) life to Russia for the duration of this affair."

He added that neither he nor the activists saw themselves as being above the law, and requested an urgent meeting with Putin.

The detainees - 28 Greenpeace activists and two freelance journalists - have been held in the northern Russian port city of Murmansk since authorities arrested them last month as their ship approached an oil platform owned by Gazprom, the big Russian energy company.

Naidoo, who was repeatedly arrested and later driven underground for his role in the struggle against apartheid in his native South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, said he was prepared to "share the fate" of the Greenpeace activists. They face prison terms of up to 15 years if convicted.

"I do not expect to share their fate, but it is a risk I am willing to take," he said, adding that the "actions of peaceful protesters" could not be called piracy.

"You ... know that in being accused of piracy they are charged with a crime that did not happen," he told Putin in the letter.

The Netherlands launched legal proceedings against Russia on Friday, saying it had unlawfully detained the activists and others on the Dutch-registered icebreaker Arctic Sunrise.

After the protest, Russian coastguard officers forcibly boarded and seized control of the ship and towed it to Murmansk. Russia has denied Greenpeace's assertions that the ship had been in international waters when it was seized.

(Reporting By Thomas Escritt; Editing by Philip Barbara)

 

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