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A mild-mannered sea captain from Norwalk pilots his Greenpeace ship to the Arctic Ocean

Capt. Pete Wilcox on the Arctic Sunrise

Photograph: Nick Cobbing/Greenpeace

This saga sounds straight out of a movie script: A mild-mannered sea captain from Norwalk pilots his Greenpeace ship to the Arctic Ocean, ferrying a crew of protestors who plan to scale a Russian oil-drilling platform and hang a banner. But while the protestors scale the rig, the Russians spray machine gunfire toward the Artic Sunrise, sending the captain, Peter Willcox, heading for the high seas. Two days later, Russian armed commandos drop from helicopters and storm the ship, arresting Willcox and crew and charging them with piracy. Meanwhile, the captain pushes his secret piracy button, alerting the Dutch that their ship is under siege.

This was no movie, though. The real-life episode resulted in Willcox and crew being imprisoned in Murmansk for more than 100 days. “We were pretty much locked down for twenty-three hours a day,” says Willcox, who recounted the tale recently from his home in the Village Creek section of Norwalk. He returned home early this year after he and the others were granted amnesty. “Less than one percent of Russian prisoners are ever found innocent, so once you’re in the system the probability is that you’re in hot water. That’s why
the first six weeks was quite an unsettling time.”

While Willcox was locked in a cell, his family and friends from Norwalk to the Netherlands organized a movement to free the Arctic 30. Local sailors staged a flotilla protest that started at Cove Marina in Norwalk and sailed around the United Nations. Family members organized a candlelight vigil for the whole neighborhood and invited elected officials to join in to heighten awareness about the group’s plight. All this was a pleasant surprise to Willcox, who has been working on environmental efforts for thirty-two years. When the captain returned home to Norwalk this time, he says, people at the marine hardware store and other places he’s been going to for years thanked him for his efforts.

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