NORWALK, Conn. -- Peter Willcox, captain of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise and a Norwalk native, has been charged with piracy by the Russian government along with 27 other crew members and two photojournalists after they protested the country's oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean.
If convicted, the offense carries a maximum 15-year prison term.
Greenpeace, dubbing the activists the "Arctic 30," has had lawyers acting on behalf of the organization lodge formal appeals in the Murmansk Lenin district court against the continued detention of the crew, who come from around the world.
“Our activists have been charged with a crime that did not happen, they are accused of an imaginary offense," Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo said in a statement. "There can be no doubt about why the charge of piracy has been brought and the legal hammer wielded. An effort is underway to intimidate us, but our peaceful passionate campaign against Gazprom and all other Arctic drillers will not be silenced."
The charges come even though Russian President Vladimir Putin was quoted last week as saying that the activists are "obviously not pirates," according to a statement.
"A profound injustice is right now being perpetrated against our friends, our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters who sit in jail," Naidoo continued in the statement. "I call on people across the world to stand with us against Gazprom and all oil companies who want to drill in the Arctic, join us in this fight against bullies of the very worst kind.”
The "Arctic 30" peacefully protested on an off-shore oil platform owned by Russian oil giant Gazprom on Sept. 18. When they arrived, the Russian Coast Guard fired warning shots and threatened the activists' lives. Then, Russian Coast Guard officers illegally boarded and seized the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise via helicopter.
Greenpeace describes itself as an independent global campaigning organization that acts to change attitudes and behavior, to protect the environment and promote peace.