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. Russia Plants Flag At North Pole To Claim Arctic Seabed Riches

The six explorers made the descent in two Mir mini-submarines. The Mir-1 had to search for a hole in the ice for 40 minutes to resurface after spending eight hours and 40 minutes underwater and it was soon followed by the Mir-2, Russian media quoted expedition officials as saying.
by Conor Humphries
Moscow (AFP) Aug 02, 2007
A Russian expedition planted the country's flag on the seabed under the North Pole on Thursday, capping a mission to claim the mineral riches of the Arctic and drawing ridicule from abroad. "The Mir-1 submarine successfully reached the bottom of the Arctic Ocean... at a depth of 4,261 metres (13,980 feet)," veteran Arctic explorer and expedition leader Artur Chilingarov told the Vesti television channel.

A Russian flag made of rust-proof titanium was deposited on the seabed as a symbol of Russia's claims over a vast swathe of Arctic territory, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has called for greater efforts to secure Russian interests in the Arctic, congratulated the explorers by phone late Thursday, news agency ITAR-TASS reported.

But the foreign minister of Canada, which has also talked up the need to defend its national interests in the Arctic, ridiculed the flag-planting.

"Look, this isn't the 15th century. You can't go around the world and plant flags and say, 'We're claiming this territory'," MacKay told Canadian broadcaster CTV.

Chilingarov, who is also a member of parliament, was joined by five others for the mission, including fellow parliamentarian Vladimir Gruzdev, Swedish pharmaceuticals tycoon Frederik Paulsen, and Michael McDowell, an Australian explorer.

The six explorers made the descent in two Mir mini-submarines.

The Mir-1 had to search for a hole in the ice for 40 minutes to resurface after spending eight hours and 40 minutes underwater and it was soon followed by the Mir-2, Russian media quoted expedition officials as saying.

Billed as the first to reach the ocean floor under the North Pole, the expedition aims to establish that a section of seabed passing through the pole, known as the Lomonosov Ridge, is in fact an extension of Russia's landmass.

Speaking during a trip to the Philippines on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he hoped the expedition "would provide additional scientific evidence for our aspirations," in comments broadcast on Vesti-24.

The voyage reflects growing international interest in the Arctic partly due to climate change, which is causing greater melting of the ice and making the area more accessible for research and economic activity.

The US Geological Survey, a US government agency, said in a report earlier that some 25 percent of world oil reserves are believed to be located above the Arctic Circle.

In 2001 Russia made a submission to a United Nations commission claiming sub-sea rights stretching to the pole. That claim was rejected and the current Russian expedition is looking for evidence to support a new application.

If the UN accepts Russia's claim to the territory, "we will wind up with about two-thirds of the hydrocarbon reserves in the Arctic Ocean," Interfax quoted Russian Geological Institute researcher Nikolai Osokin as saying.

The expedition comes as several countries try to extend their rights over sections of the Arctic Ocean floor. Both Norway and Denmark are carrying out surveys to this end.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently called for measures to defend the country's interests in the Arctic, including by boosting the number of ice-breakers patrolling Canada's waters.

US politicians, including Senator Richard Lugar, have urged defence of their country's Arctic interests to stand up to Russian claims over large stretches of the seabed.

"Unless the United States ratifies the treaty, Moscow will be able to press its claims without an American at the table," Lugar said in May, referring to the Law of the Sea treaty, a complex agreement on territorial sovereignty.

Russian media reported a US expedition that set off from Norway on July 1 to study another part of the Arctic seabed, the Gakkel Ridge, was part of a race between Moscow and Washington for the Arctic's mineral riches.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which was organising the voyage, said in an email to AFP that the "expedition is in search of hydrothermal vents and new biological life."

On Thursday a second Russian expedition was to be launched from the northern port of Arkhangelsk for a 100-day research mission to Russia's Arctic seas, the Arctic and Antarctic Institute in Saint Petersburg said.

Putin made a speech on a nuclear ice-breaker earlier this year urging greater efforts to secure Russia's "strategic, economic, scientific and defence interests" in the Arctic.

Source: Agence France-Presse

related report

Russian explorers Ready For epic North Pole plunge
by Conor Humphries Moscow (AFP) Aug 01 - Russian explorers on Wednesday readied for a historic descent to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean under the North Pole as part of a push to claim the area for Russia, expedition organisers said. On Thursday morning, two mini-submarines were due take the manned craft to a depth of around 4,200 metres (14,000 feet) to the seabed, the institute that launched the mission said in a statement. A Russian nuclear ice-breaker and a research ship carrying the explorers were due to reach the launch site late Wednesday, but an earlier plan for a Wednesday night dive was cancelled, organizers said.

The dive is believed to be the first of its kind and is part of an epic voyage to advance Russian claims to a swathe of Arctic seabed thought to be rich in oil and gas.

Parliament member and veteran arctic explorer Artur Chilingarov will lead a group of explorers who will carry out scientific tests and deposit a Russian flag on the arctic seabed.

"Having your feet reach such a depth is like taking the first step on the moon," Chilingarov, was quoted as saying in an interview with RIA Novosti news agency.

Russian media sounded a chorus of praise for the mission, billing it as a historic initiative and a potential victory over Western rivals eager to develop the region.

"The Arctic-2007 mission should become a landmark in Russia's mastery of the North Pole," the Novye Izvestia daily wrote Wednesday. "There is already serious talk of a new Cold War."

Russian television reports suggested a US expedition that set off from Norway on July 1 to study another part of the Arctic seabed, the Gakkel Ridge, was part of a race between Moscow and Washington for the Arctic's mineral riches.

But the US expedition's robotic vehicles were to hunt for "life and hydrothermal vents on the Arctic seafloor," said the website of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which is organising the voyage.

The Russian expedition, which set off on July 24 from the northern Russian port of Murmansk, hopes to establish that a section of seabed passing through the North Pole is in fact an extension of Russia's landmass.

On Thursday a second Russian expedition will be launched from the northern port of Arkhangelsk for a 100-day research mission to Russia's Arctic seas, the Arctic and Antartic Institute in Saint Petersburg said in a statement.

There is growing international rivalry in the region as energy reserves grow scarce in other parts of the world and the melting of the polar ice caps makes the area more accessible for research and economic activity.

In a speech on a nuclear ice-breaker earlier this year, President Vladimir Putin urged greater efforts to secure Russia's "strategic, economic, scientific and defense interests" in the Arctic.

But some experts warn that oil and gas reserves in the region are not large enough to offset the operational costs and difficulties of working in Arctic conditions.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Russian Explorers And MPs Prepare Descent To Polar Depths
Moscow (AFP) Jul 29, 2007
A Russian exploration team led by two members of parliament was carrying out tests on Sunday before an epic descent to the North Pole seabed, amid heightened international rivalry in the region. The Arctic 2007 expedition led by veteran explorer and parliament member Artur Chilingarov is aimed at advancing Russia's claims to a swathe of Arctic seabed thought to be rich in oil and gas.

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