Peter Willcox is the American captain of the Arctic Sunrise, the Greenpeace ship Russian authorities seized at gunpoint in international waters on September 19th. The day before, activists had attempted to hang a protest banner on the Prirazlomnaya, the oil rig that was to become the first active offshore rig in the Arctic, but the Russian military countered with gunfire and knives, and then they hauled all 30 activists, crew members, and journalists to prison where they have been for the past two months under charges of “piracy” and “hooliganism.” Last week, 29 of the Arctic 30, including Peter WIllcox, were granted bail. They are now out of prison, but they can’t leave Russia, and the threat of years in prison or a labor camp still hangs over all of them.
The case has led to an international outcry, with everyone millions of people from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to Madonna calling for the release of the Arctic 30. You can join them by signing the petition here.
Captain Willcox was doing what he has done for his entire adult life, since he sailed with Pete Seeger on the Clearwater, since he captained the Rainbow Warrior when the French government bombed it in 1985, and since he helped document and clean up the Gulf after the Deepwater Horizon disaster –he was working to save the planet and all its life from unnatural destruction.
He is a hero, not a hooligan. He knows catastrophic climate change will be intensified dramatically if we continue to allow carbon pollution to melt the Arctic, and he knows that not even the best and brightest from the oil industry can prevent a spill in that remote and delicate Arctic ecosystem. He sailed to save the Arctic, and now he’s captive to the Russian legal system.
It’s not right, and it must end.
Last year, Bonnie “Prince” Billy came aboard the Esperanza when it was docked in Seattle, before it sailed to the Alaskan Arctic to protest Shell’s plans to drill in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. We talked about life on board, how it wasn’t so different from life on tour, or on a film set. All of these endeavors take collective vision, collaborative effort, and strong, intelligent leadership.
By all accounts, Peter Willcox is an excellent captain.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy sang this song for Peter on the docks in Annapolis, Maryland. The original is on his album Wolfroy Goes to Town, but he changed the last verse for Peter. The song now goes like this:
When he’d disappeared into hazard I’d feared
I was now meant to sail on my own
There is a place on the open sea
You will say it is like any other
It has an air of importance to me
As it waits for the hull of my brother
It had been my thought that the power he got
Couldn’t be there without what I gave him
And now I find a good part of my mind
Will be worthless unless I help save him
He ain’t here ain’t here
I can’t handle this lack
Want my captain back
Peter and all of his colleagues have been granted bail, but they still aren’t free. It’s time for this injustice to end. President Putin, I want my captain back. We all do. Free the Arctic 30.