Kuupik Kleist, the country’s Prime Minister, criticised Greenpeace activists for “an illegal attack on Greenland’s constitutional rights” after four protesters scaled the sides of Cairn Energy’s rig and secured themselves in makeshift tents.
Activists used inflatable speedboats to evade Danish navy units and access the rig, which has been the centre of a global storm since the Scottish firm announced the discovery of natural gas -- and potentially oil -- last week.
Morten Nielsen, the deputy head of Greenland’s police, described the stunt as “a clear violation of the law” and promised to pursue the activists.
The campaigners said they had enough food and water to hold on in the Arctic conditions for several days.
Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy last week sparked hopes of a massive oil find in the world’s last untouched wilderness when it announced that its exploration team had discovered natural gas. The firm is the first in the world to uncover such promising signs of oil near Greenland, although the US geological survey last year estimated that as much as 90 billion barrels may lie under the Arctic crust.
Greenpeace said it hoped to disrupt drilling until more wintery weather set in, bringing hazardous conditions in an area known to some as “iceberg alley”.
Sim McKenna, one of the campaigners hanging 15 metres above the sea from the edge of the Cairn platform, the Stena Don, said: “We’ve got to keep the energy companies out of the Arctic and kick our addiction to oil. That’s why we’re going to stop this rig from drilling for as long as we can.
“The BP gulf oil disaster showed us it’s time to go beyond oil. The drilling rig we’re hanging off could spark an Arctic oil rush, one that would pose a huge threat to the climate and put this fragile environment at risk.”
The American described the platform as “the most important oil rig in the world”. He added: “If we can stop them striking oil here in the next few weeks we’ll hold back the oil giants for at least another year, hopefully gaining enough time for a global ban on dangerous deepwater drilling projects like this to be enacted.”
Cairn Energy dismissed comparisons to the Gulf of Mexico disaster, which involved drilling in deeper water, although with better weather conditions.
A spokesman said: “As always, safety remains our No 1 priority. The actions taken by Greenpeace are primarily a matter for the Greenlandic authorities and Cairn will work with these authorities as they seek to deal with the matter.”
The Danish navy has been enforcing an exclusion zone around the rig, but plans to leave the present situation to police.
Mr Kleist roundly criticised the protesters for the impact they would have on the island’s fragile economy. “The Greenland Government regards the Greenpeace action as being a very grave and illegal attack on Greenland’s constitutional rights,” he said. “It is highly disturbing that Greenpeace, in its chase for media attention, breaks the safety regulations put in place to protect people and the environment.”
He added that the government “remains confident that the police and the executive authorities will continue to ensure that the legal business activities can continue undisturbed.”
Mr Kleist said this was not the first time that environment protesters had clashed with locals in Greenland.
Global Inuit leader Aqqaluk Lynge revealed in The Herald on Monday that Greenpeace members had met with a protest demonstration in August when they tried to engage residents of the capital, Nuuk, to discuss drilling. Many Greenlanders are still angry at the campaign group’s attempts in the 1970s to interfere with traditional industries such as the seal fur trade.
But Juliet Swann, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said it “fully supports Greenpeace’s efforts to stop the drilling in the Arctic, and urges governments to issue a moratorium on this kind of deepwater drilling”.