Two Courts Hold Key To Fate Of Greenpeace Activist

, The Connecticut Law Tribune


Peter Willcox
Peter Willcox

Peter Willcox grew up on the water in South Norwalk and he learned how to sail small boats along the craggy Connecticut shoreline.

As his sailing skills improved, so did his interest in environmental activism. Since 1981, he's been piloting boats for Greenpeace, leading hundreds of missions for the international environmental activist organization to raise awareness about pollution and protect "fragile ocean environments from drilling and threats of oil spills."

Now Willcox is at the center of an international dispute that erupted several weeks ago when he and 22 Greenpeace activists were jailed by Russian authorities for trying to board an oil rig in the Arctic Sea. The much-publicized arrests could soon put the plight of Willcox and his colleagues before at least two courts.

First, there is the criminal case being pursued by Russian authorities, who accuse Willcox and the other crew members of piracy. Russian prosecutors are still collecting evidence, and the U.S. State Department has met with the crew members and lawyers who are representing them in Russia to discuss defense strategies.

Then there is the human rights case. Greenpeace, through a Netherlands-based attorney, has asked an international maritime tribunal to order the Greenpeace activists released. The Russian government has refused to acknowledge the authority of that tribunal.

Willcox has no Connecticut-based lawyer working for him. But he does have quite a reputation.

"He's cool, calm and collected," said Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, who has sailed with Willcox in the past. "The people of the United States should be proud of their fellow citizen."

"There's a fair bit of info out there about Peter," said Keiller MacDuff, a New York-based Greenpeace spokeswoman. "He's been in the game so long."

Long enough to have boarded icy oil platforms in the middle of the night, to have survived at least one bombing and to have been arrested on the high seas, all in the name of environmentalism. After the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Willcox led many missions to protest oil drilling in U.S. waters.

In 1985, he was the captain of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior, when it was bombed by French spies in Auckland, New Zealand, killing one crew member, while protesting French nuclear testing.

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