"This is now a legal matter," Ole Sæverud told Norway's NRK. "Norway has a right and a duty to manage the resources in this area. When Greenpeace disrupts a test drilling, the question is whether or not we have an obligation to do something about it."
Greenpeace's ship Esperanza on Thursday occupied the exact location where the the Transocean Spitsbergen, a drill rig contracted to Norway's Statoil, is scheduled to drill the most northerly oil well yet drilled, near Norway's Bear Island, in the Svalbard archipelago.
"The Esperanza is a small ship but we are determined to stay on top of this drilling site and stop Statoil," Greenpeace Arctic campaigner Sune Scheller said in a statement.
Troms Police arrived by helicopter at Statoil's drilling rig on Thursday morning to remove the remaining seven of the 12 activists who mounted the Transocean Spitsbergen rig on Tuesday.
Norway's Petroleum Ministry responded to the occupation of the site by issuing an order to establish an immediate "safety zone" around the rig, an order Greenpeace lawyers immediately appealed as illegal under Norwegian law.
“There is no reason why the Esperanza should have to make way for oil companies to drill here because of the abrupt and irregular declaration of a safety zone," Greenpeace International legal counsel Daniel Simon said in a statement. "Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, foreign vessels enjoy freedom of navigation through the Exclusive Economic Zone. We certainly have as much right to be here as companies drilling for Arctic oil.”
According to Greenpeace, Norwegian law stipulates that the authorities must give at least 30 days due notice before establishing such a zone in international waters.
According to Greenpeace the drilling site is just 25 km from the furthest reach of the Arctic ice cap, and risks harming Bear Island 175km away, which has been a nature reserve since 2002.
"The activists are standing up for the Arctic and Bear Island," Greenpeace activist Scheller said. "They want to save this pristine and harsh environment from oil spills."
According to Greenpeace, the activists are from Denmark, Finland, Norway, the Philippines and Sweden, and among them was a Finn who spent two months in prison in Russia for a similar action in September last year.
The NGO said they were questioned by police in Norway and then freed.
Statoil has accused the NGO of acting "irresponsibly and illegally", and said the organisation has been told of "the risk associated with actions against a rig in open waters".
The rig is registered on the Marshall Islands, which asked Norway to assist in the removal of the activists, according to a statement from Norwegian police.