NORWALK, Conn. -- More than 300 days after it was boarded and seized by Russia during a high-profile peaceful protest against Arctic oil drilling, the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise finally departed Murmansk on Friday en route for its home port of Amsterdam.
When the Arctic Sunrise was seized, its captain was Pete Willcox, a Norwalk native who was charged with hooliganism and held in a Russian prison last year for more than 100 days before being granted amnesty.
He left Russia on Dec. 28 along with the rest of his crew, who had been dubbed the "Arctic 30." The ship had remained in Murmansk since it was seized Sept. 19, 2013.
The crew had protested Russian oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean by trying to hang a banner on a drilling rig.
The icebreaker has been held in custody since that day. A Greenpeace crew, led by Captain Daniel Rizzotti, gained access to the Arctic Sunrise on June 27, and has spent three weeks making the ship seaworthy, after finding considerable disorder on board, according to a Greenpeace statement.
“When the captain and crew boarded the Arctic Sunrise they found it in a bad state, with no maintenance for 10 months, and the ship’s navigation, communications and safety systems either removed or destroyed,” said Greenpeace International Arctic campaigner Faiza Oulahsen, who was among those detained for nearly three months in Russia. “The Arctic Sunrise is now headed for Amsterdam, where the ship will need to undergo extensive repairs, so that it can get back to protecting the Arctic from reckless oil companies like Shell and Gazprom."
The Arctic Sunrise is expected to arrive in Amsterdam early this month for an assessment of its condition and the necessary repairs.
“The illegal boarding and arrest of the Arctic Sunrise and the ongoing investigation into the Arctic 30 protest was an attempt to intimidate and stifle debate about Arctic oil drilling, but it has only made us stronger," said Oulahsen. "Millions of people spoke out against the illegal imprisonment of the Arctic 30. These same millions of people know the planet is warming and that Arctic ice is melting, and will continue to peacefully oppose the reckless pursuit of Arctic oil both in Russia and around the world."
Willcox, 61, is a longtime Greenpeace activist and boat captain. He was also the captain of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985 when it was bombed in New Zealand by the French secret service, killing a Greenpeace photographer.
“I might soon be going home to my family, but I should never have been charged and jailed in the first place," Willcox said in a statement at the time of his release from Russia. "We sailed north to bear witness to a profound environmental threat, but our ship was stormed by masked men wielding knives and guns. Now it’s nearly over and we may soon be truly free, but there’s no amnesty for the Arctic.
"We may soon be home, but the Arctic remains a fragile global treasure under assault by oil companies and the rising temperatures they’re driving," Willcox added in the statement. "We went there to protest against this madness. We were never the criminals here.”
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