This past weekend a protest flotilla traveled from Norwalk, Connecticut, to New York City, New York, and back to raise awareness of the “Arctic 30,” a group of Greenpeace activists currently imprisoned in Russia.
Russian agents arrested the group at gunpoint and impounded the ship Arctic Sunrise on September 19 when several crewmembers tried to climb an oil platform owned by Gazprom and unveil a banner to protest the offshore oil drilling currently taking place within the Arctic Circle.
The crew of 30 journalists, activists and sailors from 18 different countries—including the captain of the Arctic Sunrise, U.S. sailor Peter Willcox, 59—all face stiff prison sentences after having been charged first with piracy and then “hooliganism.” In addition to saying the charges are completely out of proportion to actions of the crew, Greenpeace and other activists point out that the oil platform is in international waters, beyond the reach of the domestic laws Russia is trying to apply.
After spending two months in Murmansk, the group has been moved to a jail in St. Petersburg. In an interview with Reuter, Willcox described the conditions in Murmansk as “bleak.”
Last weekend’s flotilla of support began at the Sound Sailing Center, where Willcox also works as a part-time instructor. Later the fleet stopped at the UN Building where the sailors called out the names and backgrounds of the 30 prisoners and then asked for their release as well as more awareness of problems in the Arctic. After that the flotilla circled the Statue of Liberty before heading back down the Hudson for an afternoon press conference outside the World Financial Center.
Protest leader Martin van Breems, who is also the owner of Sound Sailing Center and a long-time friend of Willcox, described Russia’s actions, which included boarding the Arctic Sunrise international waters and sailing it into Russian territorial waters, as “outrageous,” adding: “I have never been a Greenpeace activist, but Russia's seizure of the Arctic Sunrise and imprisonment of the crew bothers me greatly.”