Connecticut Man Among "Arctic 30" Still Held in Russia

Oct 18, 2013

The seized Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise.
Credit Greenpeace
Arctic Sunrise captain Peter Willcox in custody. His wife, Maggy, noted his "wry smile" which told her he is "okay."
Credit Greenpeace

With Tom Hanks getting good reviews for his portrayal of a ship captain taken over by Somali pirates, it might be a good time to note that there could be a future Hollywood script being written right now in the Russian port city of Murmansk. 

That's where the "Arctic 30" are being held by Russian officials after a raid of their Greenpeace boat on September 19. The Arctic Sunrise was seized by the Russian coast guard during a protest of Russian oil giant Gazprom and its plans to drill in the Arctic. The ship's captain, Peter Willcox of Norwalk, Connecticut, is among the 28 activists and two journalists who are being held on charges of piracy. They face up to 15 years in prison. 

Portland Press Herald reporter David Hench has been in touch with Willcox's wife Maggy, who last heard from her husband the day of the raid. "Her last communication was a copy of an email, that he was actually sending to Greenpeace, that he was kind enough to cc his wife on," Hench told WNPR. The email said that nobody had been hurt, but that "the Russians were taking over his ship." 

Maggy Willcox told Hench that while she hasn't had any more communication with her husband, she noted that the pictures of him she's seen show Willcox sporting a "wry smile," a signal to her that he was "okay." 

"This is a guy who knows what he's doing."
David Hench

Maggy and Peter Willcox met in the 1970s aboard the Clearwater, a boat that was used by musician Pete Seeger to draw attention to environmental causes and the cleanup of the Hudson River.

In 1985, Willcox was the captain of the Greenpeace boat Rainbow Warrior when it was bombed by French agents in New Zealand. A Portuguese photographer was killed in that attack. (It also spawned a movie, starring Sam Neill and Jon Voight.)

"This is a guy who knows what he's doing," Hench said. "Obviously, a big part of what Greenpeace was trying to achieve there was to draw attention to the potential threats as they saw it to the Arctic. I think he felt pretty comfortable in his surroundings, even if he wishes he was back in Connecticut." 

While coverage of the arrests has been limited in the U.S., the story has become a big headline in Europe. The Guardian has devoted extensive coverage to the fate of the activists. Their plight has attracted attention from leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who expressed her concern to Russian President Vladimir Putin. And 11 Nobel Peace Prize laureates have asked that charges against the 30 be dropped