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Islesboro man home after months in Russian jail

7:06 PM, Dec 31, 2013   |    comments
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PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Maggy and Peter Willcox of Islesboro got a great Christmas gift this year - they're finally home, and together. Peter Willcox is a ship captain for the environmental group Greenpeace. He spent much of the fall in jail in Murmansk, Russia, after the ship was seized during a protest in the Arctic Ocean.

Willcox was captain of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunriss. He ays they were protesting oil drilling in the Arctic, which Greenpeace says poses a risk of oil spills and will result in more carbon emissions, which will further damage the earth's climate. He says the protest involved climbing part-way up an oil rig, and hanging large banners protesting the drilling. Willcox says they had protested in the same area in the past with no problem. But this time, he says, the Russians fired bullets at the their ship and small boats, and the Arctic Sunrise was boarded by Russian soldiers in international waters. The crew was arrested, and charged with piracy - punishable by 10 to 15 years in prison.

"It was almost a month before I was able to contact Maggy on the phone,", says Willcox, "almost a month before I was able to have a meeting with my lawyer." He says the piracy charge had nothing to support it, but still worried about the possibility of a long sentence.

Willcox says he was not mistreated, but treated like most of the other prisoners. He says they were all kept in their cells 23 hours a day, and he was not allow3ed to talk with the other crew members.

Maggy Willcox says that during this same time, she had to also become an activist, doing countless interviews with world media, and helping Greenpeace rally support for the prisoners they called the "Arctic 30". They were finally released on bail after two months, but forced to remain in St. Petersburg for another month. The were allowed to leave Russia last week, says Willcox, after one house of the Russian parliament voted to grant him and the crew amnesty. Willcox says he believes it was part of an effort to make the Russian government look good before the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Peter Willcox says he thinks the ordeal was worth it, because the arrest actually helped Greenpeace gain more publicity for its efforts against oil drilling and climate change. However, he admits that view comes with the benefit of hindsight: "Now that I'm out and know what happened yes," says the ship captain. "if you'd asked me a month into my incarceration I'd say no, absolutely not."

Willcox says he will continue his involvement with Greenpeace protests. Maggy Willcox says she wouldn't want to stop him, but doesn't want him going back to Russia.

 

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