Russian court begins remand hearing on Greenpeace piracy.

A Russian court has begun remand hearings for the Greenpeace activists held on piracy charges today.

The activists crewing The Arctic Sunrise - including 6 Britons - were arrested by the Russian Coastguard on suspicion of piracy during a protest against oil drilling.

The hearing will determine if the activists will remain in custody before a preliminary trial hearing.

Two Russian nationals, a Frenchman, a Pole, a New Zealander and a Canadian were all ordered to be held pending the inquiry into the alleged "piracy".

A further 24 activists from across the globe including Iain Rogers, 37 and Alex Harris, 27 from Devon are expected shortly.

If convicted of piracy at trial the activists could spend up to 15 years in a Russian prison.

During the protest two activists were arrested during an attempt to scale oil drilling platform owned by Gazprom. The rest of the activists were arrested the following day when Greenpeace ship The Arctic Sunrise was seized the next day.

Russian President, Vladimir Putin has said that the activists were obviously not pirates but has made no intervention in their detention so far.

Greenpeace has maintained that the protest was peaceful and the arrest took place unlawfully in international waters.

Russia’s oil deposit under the Arctic Circle is thought to contain as much as 20% of the world’s remaining oil and gas reserves.

The deposit is considered to be a major part of Russia’s economic future and authorities may sentence harshly to deter further disruption to operations.

The deposit has been largely untouched so far due to the significant risks of an environmental disaster in freezing temperatures.

There is currently no possible way to clear a spill in such low temperatures as all known techniques are designed for the warmer waters in the Gulf.