September 27, 2013

Ship captain with Maine ties jailed by court in Russia

Peter Willcox is being held after a Greenpeace protest in the Arctic was disrupted.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The husband of an Islesboro woman is among a group of Greenpeace activists jailed in Russia after their protest was disrupted last week near an offshore oil platform in the Arctic.

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Peter Willcox, the captain of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, is kept behind bars in a courtroom in Murmansk, Russia, on Thursday.

Efrem Lukatsky/The Associated Press

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A Russian court Thursday ordered Peter Willcox to be held in jail for two months during a piracy investigation, according to Greenpeace International.

Willcox, 60, was captain of the Arctic Sunrise and in command of the ship on Sept. 18 when it proceeded through the waters off northwest Russia toward the oil platform in the Pechora Sea.

According to Greenpeace, its crew members launched five inflatable boats from the Arctic Sunrise about 4:30 that morning and headed toward the oil rig as part of a protest against energy giant Gazprom drilling in Arctic waters. Some of the activisits were intercepted and arrested by the Russian Coast Guard, but two of them were able to attach themselves to the platform before being taken into custody, the group said.

The Arctic Sunrise was seized by Russian authorities and the captain and crew were detained and taken to Murmansk.

Willcox is a longtime Greenpeace activist. He was captain of the organization's ship Rainbow Warrior when that vessel was bombed by the French in 1985.

Willcox married Maggy Willcox, publisher of the Islesboro Island News, in February. He has been identified as a resident of Norwalk, Conn., in news reports about the incident, but his father said Thursday that Willcox has spent time in both Connecticut and Maine since his recent marriage.

His father, Roger Willcox of Norwalk, Conn., said he didn't know any details about his son's situation beyond what had been reported by the news media.

The 30 members of the crew of the Arctic Sunrise are from 19 countries, according to Greenpeace. The vessel is painted with rainbows and sails under the Dutch flag.

Several crew members, as well as a photographer and a Greenpeace spokesman in Russia, were also ordered by a court in Murmansk to be detained for two months during the investigation to prevent them from committing crimes, destroying evidence or fleeing the country, Greenpeace said.

Some other crew members are being detained for a few days before another hearing is held.

Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo issued a statement Thursday after the court's decision to take custody of the crew members.

"The Russian authorities are trying to scare people who stand up to the oil industry in the Arctic, but this blatant intimidation will not succeed," he said. "We are resolute in our commitment to protecting the Arctic environment and the world's climate."

The oil platform targeted in the protest is the first offshore rig in the Arctic and is expected to start producing oil within months, according to Greenpeace.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about the incident Wednesday at an international conference on Arctic issues. Putin said it was obvious the crew members weren't pirates, but he supported the decision of Russian authorities to detain them, according to the Association Press.

Russia's Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said some of those jailed could be released before two months are up as investigators clarify what roles they played in the protest, the AP reported. A long detention or trials could draw unwelcome international attention to Russia's tough policy against protests, it said.

The Dutch minister of foreign affairs and the World Wildlife Fund have called for the release of the crew.

None of the crew members had been charged with a crime as of Thursday afternoon, when the court was continuing to take up the case of each activist, the AP said.

A charge of piracy has a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, according to Bloomberg.

It's not the first time Willcox has gotten attention for his activism. His experience as captain of the Rainbow Warrior when it was bombed by the French in 1985 was the focus of a 1993 feature film called "The Rainbow Warrior." Willcox was played by actor Jon Voight.

 

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

lbridgers@pressherald.com

 

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