Russia denies bail for Greenpeace U.S. captain, two activists

MOSCOW Mon Oct 14, 2013 12:45pm EDT

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia denied bail on Monday to the American captain of a Greenpeace ship and two other foreign activists who are among 30 environmentalists arrested on charges of piracy over a protest at an Arctic drilling platform.

Captain Peter Willcox and activists David John Haussmann, 49, of New Zealand and Camila Speziale, 21, who has Italian and Argentinian citizenship, had appealed against an order that they be held in pre-trial detention until late November.

A decision on another Arctic Sunrise crew member, Cristian D'Alessandro of Italy, was put off until Tuesday, when bail hearings for a Briton and a Swiss activist are also planned.

A court in the northern port city of Murmansk has already denied bail to two Britons and four Russians held over the September 18 protest in which activists tried to scale the Prirazlomnaya oil rig and security forces later boarded the Greenpeace ship.

The piracy charges, punishable by up to 15 years' jail, appear aimed at sending a message that Moscow will not tolerate attempts to disrupt its development of the resource-rich Arctic.

Other countries and firms seeking to exploit Arctic energy resources face similar concerns from environmentalists, who fear they will destroy a pristine ecosystem.

Willcox, 60, a veteran campaigner who was at the helm of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior when it was bombed and sunk by the French secret service in 1985, denied the charges against him in court.

"I have been doing this for 40 years and never faced a charge like this," the state-run Russian news agency RIA quoted him as saying. "If I could start everything over, I would stay in New York."

Greenpeace says the protest at the rig owned by state-controlled Russian energy company Gazprom was peaceful and calls the piracy charges absurd and unfounded.

"He is a hero not a pirate," Willcox's wife, Maggie, said in a statement. "I appeal to the common sense and conscience of the Russian authorities to let my husband and the rest of the people from the Arctic Sunrise come home."

President Vladimir Putin has said the activists were not pirates but that they had violated international law. The head of the Kremlin's human rights advisory body has said he would ask prosecutors to withdraw the piracy charges.

Investigators have said more charges will be pressed against some protesters as drugs and other suspect items had been found on the ship. Greenpeace denies there were illegal items aboard.

Those arrested include citizens of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, France, Sweden, Poland, Turkey and Ukraine.

(Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; editing by Mark Heinrich and Tom Pfeiffer)

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