Captain of seized Greenpeace ship recalls commandos plundering liquor

Captain of Greenpeace vessel says arrest by Russian commandos was 'quite scary'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 November, 2013, 2:43am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 November, 2013, 2:43am


The Russian commandos who boarded a Greenpeace ship in the Arctic two months ago were coldly professional at first, pointing automatic weapons at terrified crew members and forcing them to kneel.

But after discerning no threat, they began plundering the crew's alcohol supply and quickly descended into drunken revelry.

So went the account of Peter Willcox, the American captain of the ship, the Arctic Sunrise, in his first interview since his release from detention.

"The way we were arrested was quite scary," Willcox, 60, said by telephone from St Petersburg, where all but two of the 30 people who were on board the Arctic Sunrise have been released on bail ahead of a trial in February.

[They] wore balaclavas and uniforms with no insignia of any kind

About a dozen commandos descended onto the ship on September 19. They "wore balaclavas and uniforms with no insignia of any kind, and rappelled out of a helicopter", he said. "They made the crew kneel on deck and took over the ship as quickly as possible. They had machine guns out."

The commandos locked most of the crew members, who had been protesting oil drilling in the Arctic to the north of Russia, in their cabins. But soon after, as it became clear that the crew posed no real danger, the air of sleek professionalism disappeared.

"The first thing they did was search everybody's cabins and steal everybody's liquor, and then they proceeded to drink it," Willcox said of the first night under Russian command. The Russians staggered on the deck and were "quite drunk", he said.

He had never spent more than a night in jail for Greenpeace before, and he described his detention as trying.

At one point, Willcox recalled kneeling in despair in the corner of a prison yard, in a freezing rain, contemplating spending a decade in the Russian gulag.

Before being transferred to St Petersburg, the 28 crew members and two freelance journalists who had been on board the ship Arctic Sunrise were held in a jail in Murmansk, a glum northern port. Willcox and the other activists face charges of hooliganism, punishable by up to seven years in prison.