(Bloomberg) -- A Dutch court on Thursday ordered activists from Greenpeace International to leave a deep sea mining research ship that they have been occupying in the Pacific Ocean for the past week. However, the activists are allowed to continue protesting on the water around the vessel, the judge ruled.  

The research expedition is being conducted by a subsidiary of The Metals Company (TMC), a Canadian-registered firm that next year plans to apply for the world’s first license to mine the deep sea for valuable minerals in international waters.

With opposition to mining biodiverse deep sea ecosystems growing, Greenpeace International sent its ship the Arctic Sunrise to intercept the TMC-chartered vessel, the MV Coco. On Saturday, Greenpeace activists boarded the Coco and climbed a winch used to lower equipment to the ocean. Greenpeace said they would remain until TMC called off the expedition.

Greenpeace is registered in the Netherlands; on Tuesday, TMC asked the Amsterdam District Court to end the protest, which it said was costing the company $1 million a day. Scientists aboard the Coco had been collecting data on the impact of a test mining operation TMC conducted in 2022 at a remote site in the Pacific between Mexico and Hawaii.

In its ruling Thursday, the court found that Greenpeace had a right to stage the demonstration under the European Convention on Human Rights, but could not stay aboard the Coco indefinitely and interfere with the ship’s operations.

“Greenpeace's protest is directed against an issue of great social importance,” wrote Judge I.H.J. Konings. “The interest in preventing a serious accident outweighs Greenpeace's interest in continuing the action on the Coco, which has been going on for just under a week and has already allowed Greenpeace to make its point.”

But the judge rejected TMC’s contention that the activists had damaged the Coco, as well as a request that they be barred from coming closer than 500 meters (1,640 feet) to the ship. TMC had cited a directive to remain 500 meters away that was issued to Greenpace on Monday by Michael Lodge, secretary-general of the International Seabed Authority. The United Nations-affiliated ISA regulates deep sea mining. 

“This appears to be a call, not an enforceable measure,” the judge wrote of the ISA’s directive. “It is unclear to what extent this authority is authorized to actually impose the measures mentioned on [in this case] Greenpeace.”

After the ruling, the Greenpeace activists departed the Coco, according to Louisa Casson, a deep sea mining campaigner aboard the Arctic Sunrise. She said Greenpeace launched two small boats today to encircle the Coco as it had done in the days prior to four activists boarding the ship on Saturday.

“The ISA Secretariat should learn from Greenpeace International activists as an example of a bold fight back against the destruction of this still unknown ecosystem,” Casson said.

TMC also hailed the ruling. “We are pleased with today’s court opinion,” TMC Chief Executive Officer Gerard Barron said in a statement. “We respect Greenpeace’s right to peaceful protest and expression of opinions. However, our foremost responsibility is to ensure the safe continuance of our legally-mandated operations, and the safety of all those involved.”

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