The Netherlands asked an international tribunal Monday to order Russia to release a Greenpeace protest ship and the activists who were on board.
Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said the government made the request to the Hamburg, Germany-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
A group of 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists have been held by Russian authorities since their ship, the Arctic Sunrise, was seized by the Russian coast guard after a protest near a Gazprom-owned oil rig on Sept. 18. The activists are being held in the northern Russian city of Murmansk. They have been charged with piracy, an offense that carries a 15-year sentence in Russia.
Timmermans said the request was a procedural step in an arbitration case the Dutch launched two weeks ago seeking to free the activists and their ship, which sails under the Dutch flag. Timmermans said it would likely take about a month for the tribunal to reach a decision on the request.
In a statement, Greenpeace International welcomed the Dutch initiative and called on other governments whose nationals are among the detained activists "to step up their work to ensure the immediate release of the detainees."
The tribunal the Dutch are turning to adjudicates in disputes arising from interpretation and application of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The Greenpeace protest on Sept. 18 saw several activists scale the oil platform in the Barents Sea to denounce Russia's plans to drill in the Arctic.
Russian border guards then lowered themselves onto the Dutch-flagged Arctic Sunrise from a helicopter, locked up the crew and towed the ship to Murmansk, located some 1,200 miles north of Moscow.
President Vladimir Putin has said that the activists were not pirates but had breached international law by getting dangerously close to the oil rig.
The Greenpeace arrests and an attack on a Dutch diplomat in Moscow, following the allegedly rough arrest of a Russian diplomat in The Hague, has caused a diplomatic flare-up between the two states, whose friendship dates back to Czar Peter the Great.
The spat is particularly embarrassing coming during a Russian-Dutch Bilateral Year aimed at promoting cultural ties.