Putin’s pirates overtake the Arctic Sunrise

Pete WillcoxLegendary Greenpeace captain Pete Willcox waits in a courtroom cage, while Russian authorities prepare to publicly announce they are holding him for two-months – to see if he’s a pirate.

These days, after what I’ve seen, I don’t get too excited about anything political.  A few months ago I decided to quit writing this blog, abandon computers, media, politics, etc.  But I found out today that an old acquaintance, Pete Willcox, is in the Russian slammer, involved in a serious international incident.

Disclosure: I worked as a crew-member on the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater during the fall of 1973.  I jumped on-board in New York City, to work my passage upriver to Albany.  The outfit took a magical three-week run, during a beautiful, colored-leaf Sept-October in the Hudson River Valley.  Willcox was also a member of the crew.

Sloop ClearwaterThe 106 ft.Hudson River Sloop Clearwater under sail.

Tying up in towns along the majestic river, we took out school kids and townsfolk, giving them environmental, historical and educational tours about everything to do with Hudson Valley’s history and ecology. The mission was to help clean-up the waters of a badly polluted Hudson River, and eventually it worked.  Pete Seeger would come aboard during the weekends, to play music and sing.  A lot of people came and went in those days, and the truth is, I barely remember Mr. Willcox these forty years later.  But after I jumped off the sloop near Albany to continue my north-bound hitchhiking, banjo-picking musical quest through New England and the Canadian Maritimes, Peter Willcox stayed on-board Clearwater, and became captain of the ship some three years later.  Not long after that, he became a career captain for Greenpeace, piloting ships like the legendary Rainbow Warrior(s).

Greenpeace’s original Rainbow Warrior was blown up by French secret agents in New Zealand in 1985, in what was appropriately called Opération Satanique.  Greenpeace was trying to stop France’s nuclear testing in the South Pacific by actually getting to the testing grounds before the bombs blew.  But the forces of French military and nuclear power were willing to do anything to prevent this.  It was later admitted by then head of France’s version of the CIA, Pierre Lacoste, that the operation was conducted under a chain-of-command going all the way to the top, with personal authorization from president François Mitterrand.

But the government-sponsored terrorism didn’t succeed.  When word spread of the bomb attack that resulted in the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior and the death of a crew-member, boats from around the world flocked to New Zealand in support of stopping nuclear-arms testing in the South Pacific.


Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour after bombing by French secret service agents.The original Rainbow Warrior, sunk at the dock by French intelligence agents.


A massive hole blown in the ship, after divers attached mines to her hull.

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Arctic SunriseCaptain Willcox’s current vessel, the Arctic Sunrise.

The awesome stories and achievements of a legend like Captain Pete Willcox are endless, but now he’s in the middle of new one.
Right now, the Russian oil company Gazprom is getting ready for a historic first – the first time offshore oil and gas drilling operations will have commenced in Arctic Region.  Oil companies are already sucking oil from land areas of the frozen north.  But this is the first time oil drilling is to occur offshore, where the water column freezes, stresses, cracks and thaws beneath and around an oil rig.  Icebergs roam, and in shallow waters can the scrub the bottom clean of the unseen infrastructure of oil – underwater pipelines, caps and blow-out preventers, etc.  In deeper waters, all bets are off.
Drilling in the Arctic is something indigenous peoples of the north, scientists, Greenpeace activists, and many, many others around the world have warned, for a long, long time – is an extremely bad idea
A blowout in the freezing offshore Arctic cannot be “cleaned up,” by even the shaky standards of the oil industry.  According to scientists, thousands of miles of rich and pristine marine coastline would be permanently destroyed if a blowout occurs.


prirazlomnaya_03Artist rendering of the nearly completed Prirazlomnaya offshore oil platform.

“Less oil, not more oil, is what this warming planet needs.  The only result of an Arctic oil-grab will be to increase the wealth of the super-rich, while the Arctic melts, the oceans rise, and the planet fries.”  – Dr. Nobody

PrirazlomnayaThis shows how Russian oil giant Gazprom plans to drill for oil  under the ocean with the Prirazlomnaya platform, in the delicate Arctic environment.  Shallow waters of 19-20 meters allowed the construction of a huge, dam-like concrete containment structure that goes all the way to the bottom, and is supposedly strong enough to withstand the forces of moving ice.  Earthquakes could be another story.

So far, the Prirazlomnaya project has been dogged by bad luck, mishaps and delays – a fate shared  by Shell Oil’s recent forays into the offshore waters of the Alaskan Arctic.

Corporations and their countries have already set their sights on new, melting areas of of the Arctic, where they are thinking of drilling offshore in much, much deeper waters.  

What could possibly go wrong? 

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Just over a week ago, inflatable boats launched from Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise dropped a team of climbers to the edge of the monstrous Prirazlomnaya oil platform.  They tried to scale the imposing cement wall that anchors the gigantic rig to the ocean floor.  They were planning to unfurl a banner, and do whatever it took to peacefully demonstrate their opposition to the impending start of offshore oil drilling in the Arctic.

But they were noticed, and soon caught by Russian Coast Guard soldiers in camo and balaclavas, who attacked the climbers and support crew with extreme violence.  The climbers, while being slammed into the concrete walls on their dangling ropes, were shot minute after minute with high pressure water hoses.  When their comrades attempted to come their aid in Greenpeace zodiacs, they were also water-hosed, and then shot-at by the balaclava-hooded commandos.  The commandos rammed their zodiacs against the Greenpeace boats, and shot automatic weapons very, very close to Greenpeace crew-members.  One had to keep his hands up for fear of being shot by a pistol pointing commando who pointed at him between shots.  Another commando was photographed  threatening a Greenpeacer with a nasty looking knife.

Finally, after all of this, the two dangling peaceful protestors – one of them a woman screaming the whole time that she wanted to come down – were taken into custody.

In an even more outrageous move the following morning, Russian helicopters attacked the Arctic Sunrise by dropping commandos, who proceeded to take the non-violent captain and crew at gunpoint. (Illegally commandeering a vessel by means of force in international waters is by definition an act of piracy).  While holding the 30-person crew at gunpoint, the hijackers called in a tow-ship, and towed the Arctic Sunrise to the nearby industrial port of Murmansk, with the hostage crew held at gun point.

Kafkaesque hearings are being held this week.  Each of the crew was put in a cage to listen to strangely dressed Russian judges tell them that 22 of the crew will be held for two months, while authorities determine if they are “pirates.”

This behooves the question: Who, really, are the pirates?

The Greenpeace activists were trying to peacefully demonstrate that drilling for oil in the Arctic might not be such a good idea.  They were threatened and fired at with guns, attacked in their inflatables with knifes, commandeered on their ship, captain put in irons, and all held without charge, put in courtroom cages and jails – to be investigated for being pirates?

Meanwhile, in a well-publicized quip from Vladimir Putin as he was appearing at the “Third International Arctic Forum” in Russia, he announced that he didn’t think the protestors were pirates, but that he thought what they did was was illegal.  He’d hit the slow-pitch softball question he was fed right out of the park.  Of course, no one was allowed to ask:  “As the head of the Russian Coast Guard and special forces, do you think that what your goons did was and act of piracy?”

Putin went on to conjecture that the ‘Coast Guard’ might have thought the protestors were terrorists in Greenpeace disguise.   But Putin’s thinly transparent lies are impossible to swallow, since he and his commandos certainly knew only too well who the well-marked Greenpeace zodiacs were, and who the obviously unarmed climbers were.

The Greenpeace mother ship Arctic Dawn was well-known by the Russians to be in the area, flying their colors high as they always do, with “GREENPEACE” painted in huge letters on the sides of both the ship and her zodiacs.  Putin and the Russian military certainly know who Greenpeace is, and they know they are peaceful and non-violent.  The actions of the Russians have not only been illegal, but also deceitful and cowardly.

Anyone who’s reading this, please ask the Russian authorities to now do the right thing:  immediately release of the Arctic Sunrise and her crew.  Call embassies, call senators, call President Obama.

Tell Russia to Release Greenpeace Activists

read more: http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/

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