Greenpeace captain with Maine ties being held by Russians on piracy charge granted bail

Posted Nov. 20, 2013, at 1:33 p.m.
Peter Willcox, the American captain of a Greenpeace ship, is seen at a court in Murmansk, Russia, on Oct. 14, 2013.
GREENPEACE | REUTERS
Peter Willcox, the American captain of a Greenpeace ship, is seen at a court in Murmansk, Russia, on Oct. 14, 2013.

A Connecticut native with Maine ties who has been held in a Russian prison since his arrest on piracy charges after taking part in a Greenpeace protest two months ago has been granted bail.

Greenpeace International said in a statement Wednesday that it has posted bail for 15 of the 30 people arrested, including American Peter Willcox, but does not expect the detainees to be released before the weekend.

When Willcox and the others are released, it is not likely they will allowed to go home, said his wife, Maggy Willcox. They probably will be required to stay in Russia while the investigation of the alleged crime continues, she said.

She was cautiously optimistic about the latest turn of events.

“I’m very happy and grateful that Peter will be in better living conditions than being in a Russian prison,” she said in a telephone interview from Islesboro, Maine. But, she said, “I’ve grown very skeptical of this whole process.”

Every one of the imprisoned protesters has been granted bail except for a Greenpeace activist from Tasmania named Colin Russell, the organization said.

The group, made up of 28 members of Greenpeace plus a photographer and a videographer and dubbed the “Arctic 30,” have been in custody since two activists tried to hang a banner on an oil rig to protest drilling on Sept. 18. Willcox, 60, was captain of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise.

“We’re thrilled that Peter has been granted bail, but we know his ordeal is far from over,” Greenpeace USA Executive Director Phil Radford said in a statement. “Justice will be served only when Peter and the Arctic 30 are truly free from these farcical charges and we will continue working on their behalf to make that happen as soon as possible.”

Maggy Willcox said she talked to her husband twice: Once, for the first time since his arrest, about a month ago when she was in Norwalk, Conn., visiting his parents, and a second time on Nov. 1.

There have been lots of developments along the way, she said. One positive one was that the prisoners were moved to a different prison where conditions are better, Willcox said.

Russian authorities also announced that they were replacing the “piracy” charge with one of “hooliganism,” but they haven’t officially dropped the more serious piracy charge, she said.

Greenpeace raised the equivalent of $61,000 per prisoner — $1.83 million — for the bail, she said.

According to Greenpeace, four inflatable boats left the Arctic Sunrise and headed toward a Russian oil platform of the state-owned Gazprom to peacefully protest what the organization is calling the “Arctic oil rush.”

A Russian Coast Guard ship responded by launching inflatables of its own, manned with masked agents. They rammed and slashed the Greenpeace inflatables, and threatened the protesters at gun and knifepoint, Greenpeace said. The organization has dramatic photos of gun and knifepoint confrontations between masked Russians and protesters with their arms up in the air.

The two activists had climbed onto the rig, but retreated when they were blasted by water cannons. Several warning shots were fired as well, Greenpeace said. Greenpeace has videos of the protesters trying to climb the side of the rig.

Russian agents eventually boarded the Arctic Sunrise, even though Greenpeace says it was outside Russian territorial waters. Days later, the ship arrived at Murmansk, where the protesters appeared in court.

Greenpeace media director Molly Dorozenski — who also is from Connecticut — said last month the organization feels the piracy charge is “disproportional to what was done.”

Distributed by MCT Information Services

 

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