Sunday, November 24, 2013

Captain of Seized Greenpeace Ship Speaks From Russia November 23, 2013 Captain of Seized Greenpeace Ship Speaks From Russia By ANDREW E. KRAMER MOSCOW — The Russian commandos who boarded a Greenpeace ship in the Arctic two months ago were coldly professional at first, pointing automatic weapons at terrified crew members and forcing them to kneel. But after discerning no threat, they began plundering the crew’s alcohol supply, and quickly descended into drunken revelry. So went the account of Peter Willcox, the American captain of the ship, the Arctic Sunrise, in his first interview since his release from detention. He recalled his odyssey through the Russian legal system, from arrest at sea to confinement in grim, concrete prisons where guards showed occasional gestures of kindness. “The way we were arrested was quite scary,” Mr. Willcox, 60, said on Saturday by telephone from St. Petersburg, where all but two of the 30 people who were on board the Arctic Sunrise have been released on bail ahead of a trial in February. About a dozen commandos descended onto the ship on Sept. 19. They “wore balaclavas and uniforms with no insignia of any kind, and rappelled out of a helicopter,” he said. “They made the crew kneel on deck and took over the ship as quickly as possible. They had machine guns out.” The commandos locked most of the crew members, who had been protesting oil drilling in the Arctic to the north of Russia, in their cabins. But soon enough, as it became clear that the crew posed no real danger, the air of sleek professionalism disappeared. Besides, they knew there had to be alcohol on board. “The first thing they did was search everybody’s cabins and steal everybody’s liquor, and then they proceeded to drink it,” Mr. Willcox said of the first night under Russian command. The Russians staggered on the deck and were “quite drunk,” he said. Mr. Willcox, who was locked in his cabin like the others, likened the party on his ship that night to a maritime tradition “from the square-rigger days,” when the first booty usually found by an invading crew was the rum. He had never spent more than a night in jail for Greenpeace before, and he described his detention as trying. At one point, Mr. Willcox recalled kneeling in despair in the corner of a prison yard, in a freezing rain, contemplating spending a decade in the Russian gulag. “I would sit and wonder, ‘How the heck did I get in this situation?’ ” he said. One guard, though, allowed him to walk without handcuffs after meeting with investigators on a sunny day. Before being transferred to St. Petersburg, the 28 crew members and two freelance journalists who had been on board the Arctic Sunrise were held in a jail in Murmansk, a glum northern port. There, Mr. Willcox said, he was served fish-head stew, which he enjoyed, and cold mashed potatoes with herring, which went down with some difficulty. He and the other activists face charges of hooliganism, punishable by up to seven years in prison. Russian prosecutors initially also pressed, but now appear to be ready to drop, charges of piracy, which carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Greenpeace International sent the ship to the Pechora Sea to draw attention to the potential environmental threats caused by a rush to exploit natural resources in the Arctic. The activists wanted to hang banners on a drilling platform operated by Gazprom, the Russian state-controlled energy giant. Mr. Willcox said the Arctic Sunrise was certainly in international waters when the commandos boarded it. Russia says the activists threatened a complicated and dangerous piece of industrial equipment, in a region where impromptu protests cannot be tolerated because they increase the risk of accidents. For Greenpeace, it was the worst crisis since the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior by French agents in a New Zealand harbor in 1985. One crew member was killed in that attack. Mr. Willcox, a 32-year veteran of Greenpeace, was also captain of the Rainbow Warrior when it was bombed. © 2012 The New York Times Company Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to "The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

No comments: