December 28, 2013

Greenpeace captain relieved to be back home in Islesboro

Peter Willcox, captain of the Arctic Sunrise, had been imprisoned in Russia since September.

By Beth Quimby bquimby@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The Greenpeace ship captain imprisoned by Russia for two months is back home in Islesboro, relieved he’s no longer facing a 15-year prison term for protesting oil drilling in the Arctic.

click image to enlarge

Maggy Willcox and her husband, Peter, pose after their arrival Friday night at Logan International Airport in Boston. Peter Wilcox had been imprisoned by Russia for two months after being arrested during a protest at a Russian oil rig in the Arctic in September.

Photo courtesy of Greenpeace

Peter Willcox, captain of the Arctic Sunrise, and his wife, Maggy Willcox, landed Friday night at Logan International Airport in Boston on a flight from St. Petersburg. The couple flew into Knox County Regional Airport in Owls Head on Saturday morning, and by early afternoon Willcox was home, ending a three-month ordeal that included prisons in the northern city of Murmansk and then St. Petersburg.

“It wasn’t that being in jail was bad. It was the anxiety and fear of spending 10 to 15 years in jail,” said Willcox, 60.

Willcox and 30 fellow crew members were arrested Sept. 19 and were originally charged with piracy following their protest against drilling by the Russian company Gazprom outside its oil rig in the Arctic. The charges were eventually reduced to hooliganism. The group was held in prison for two months before being released on bail.

Willcox and the other Greenpeace members were granted amnesty Wednesday by the Russian parliament, along with other high-profile detainees such as two members of the punk band Pussy Riot.

The amnesty was widely viewed as an attempt by the government to put a damper on foreign criticism of its human rights record before the Winter Olympics begin in Sochi, Russia, in February.

Willcox said his prison experience was claustrophobic. He said it was difficult to communicate with other members of the group. At times he shared a windowless cell with two other inmates who didn’t speak English. Willcox speaks no Russian. He could only communicate with other members of the group by yelling over a fence during a daily one-hour exercise period.

He said he was very worried that he would spend the next 15 years – the maximum sentence for piracy – in prison. He said his worries began to abate in mid-November when the charges were reduced to hooliganism, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years. He said he was also relieved when the group received bail.

For the past month Willcox and his group lived in a St. Petersburg hotel.

Willcox said the group’s plight was a major news story in Russia. By the time the Greenpeace members left, they had made an impression on the Russian public, Willcox said.

“Towards the end we had 50 percent of Russians saying that what we were doing was interesting and not necessarily bad,” said Willcox.

The Russian government has not returned the Arctic Sunrise, a 166-foot icebreaker that has seen frequent action in other Greenpeace protests.

Formerly of Norwalk, Conn., Willcox, the father of two grown daughters, has been captaining Greenpeace ships for the past 32 years. He married his longtime friend, Maggy Willcox, publisher and editor of the Islesboro Island News, in February. The two live on Islesboro.

Willcox said he has no plans to quit his Greenpeace job.

Minutes after getting home Saturday, Willcox said he had two goals for the immediate future. One was visiting his family members in Connecticut over the New Year’s holiday.

But first thing on his to-do list?

“I am going to dig out a path to the wood pile,” said Willcox.

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

bquimby@pressherald.com

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