Pete Willcox: High-Seas Avenger
Credit: Will Rose / Greenpeace

The four-day sail from Kirkenes to the platform began on September 14. In less than a day, the Russian coast guard was on their tail. Still, the Greenpeace crew was relaxed – playing cards in the mess, shooting hoops in the cargo hold, and watching Top Gun and Kung Fu Panda in the theater. In the evenings, Willcox worked out on a NordicTrack or watched Game of Thrones in his cabin. On sunny days, he liked to take his sextant out on deck and teach celestial navigation to the younger members of the crew, most of whom had never sailed without GPS.

The view from the bridge was breathtaking. It was late summer, so there was no ice, but they saw walruses and narwhals and the northern lights. And then, on the fourth day, there it was: a hulking red-and-white platform, 40 stories tall and 117,000 tons, with wells snaking out from its base like tentacles – a monstrosity in this pristine landscape.

At 4:30 the next morning, a dozen Greenpeace members took off toward the Prirazlomnaya in five rubber inflatables. Two managed to hook onto the platform and were making their way to the top when the chief of the rig turned on the fire hoses. He also phoned his bosses in Moscow, who called the Federal Security Service – a successor to the KGB.

The Russian troops swooped in, yanking on the ropes to shake the climbers loose. When a Greenpeace inflatable tried to intervene, the Russians opened fire, sending bullets ripping through the water. They knifed the inflatables and took the climbers into custody, and the rest of the crew limped back to the Sunrise.

For 36 hours, the Russian coast guard pursued the Sunrise, ordering Willcox to stop and let them board. Willcox, reminding them they were a Dutch ship in international waters, refused. The Russians then accused them of being terrorists and warned that if the Sunrise didn't stop, they would open fire. Willcox replied that they should do what they had to – but if they did fire, could they please not hit the silver barrels on the deck, which were full of gasoline. The coast guard ship turned its cannon toward the Sunrise and proceeded to fire between four and 11 warning shots across its bow.

At this point, Willcox decided that since they probably weren't getting their climbers back, they'd return to Norway to regroup. A few hours later, he was working out on the elliptical when one of his communications officers burst in. "Pete!" she said. "They're trying to board!" Willcox raced to the bridge and saw a helicopter dropping ropes onto the deck. He told Hewetson to run back to the helipad to try to keep them from landing. But it was too late. A dozen Russian commandos wearing black balaclavas rappelled onto the deck with assault rifles, tackling the activists and kicking some in the ribs.

Like many ships that travel in occasionally dangerous territory, the Sunrise was equipped with an emergency beacon, which, when activated, transmits a distress signal to the International Maritime Organization and the Dutch government. As the Russians swarmed the deck, handcuffing the crew, Willcox turned to his second mate, an Argentine named Hernan Perez Orsi. "Hernan," he said, "hit the pirate button."