Apr 29, 2014
09:00 AMConnecticut Today
Greenpeace Captain Protesting Russian Arctic Oil Is From Connecticut
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Before long, Willcox realized that he and his crew were being charged with piracy and this was not a run-of-the-mill arrest.
“We thought that arrest was possible. We’ve been arrested in Russia, not me personally, but some of our other boats have done actions up there,” he says. “They’ve been arrested, they’ve been towed to Murmansk [a port city in the northwest of Russia], and they’ve been given a $1,000 fine, and told to get out. That’s generally the drill. This time, I guess they were trying to send a slightly stronger message.”
What followed for Willcox was two Kafkaesque months of uncertainty and fear.
“The whole Russian system is set up so the prisoner really knows nothing,” he says. “You’re kept in the dark with just about everything they can possibly keep you in the dark about."
What Willcox did learn of the Russian legal system terrified him even further.
“I watched the investigator more or less plant evidence and really go out of his way to lie and set things up to make us look bad,” he says. “I had to be on the boat when they were looking at it for the investigation, but that didn’t stop them from going and changing things around. In one case the investigator was going through the backpack of the ship’s doctor and found a dried plant. It was a plant she had picked in Norway, she was going to press it for her niece. He held it up in front of all the collected investigators and went, ‘This is a poppy plant.’ That night, in the newspapers, the big story was 'drugs found on the Greenpeace boat.' The plant obviously had less to do with drugs than a tulip does, but that didn’t stop the story from going out and that was pretty chilling when I saw him do that as I was sitting there in handcuffs.”
Ultimately the charges of piracy were dropped against Willcox and his crewmates. He was freed on bail from the SIZO 1 detention centre in Saint Petersburg on Nov. 22 (Below he's pictured leaving the prison; photo by Olga Matseva/AFP/Getty Images). It took about a month more for Russia to pass the amnesty and issue a proper visa for him to leave the country. He arrived back in the U.S. in late December, more than 100 days after the ordeal had began.
Willcox maintains the charges were always baseless and nothing more than an excuse to arrest the crew and seize the boat on international waters.
"The two strongest rules about a Greenpeace action is that it’s completely nonviolent, and that there is no property damage done to the object of the action,” he says. “Those two stipulations are the reasons we don’t’ get accused of piracy. We don’t do anything that could be considered piratical. The only reason the Russians could board us on the high seas, which is what they did, was if they accused us of piracy; so to make the charge look meaningful that’s what they did, but there was nothing to back it up."