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Jailed US Greenpeace captain to wife: 'Don't forget to pay the bills'

A police officer guards Peter Willcox, the U.S. captain of the Greenpeace ship
A police officer guards Peter Willcox, the U.S. captain of the Greenpeace shipEfrem Lukatsky / AP

The wife of the American Greenpeace ship captain charged with piracy by Russian authorities for a protest at a Russian oil platform in the Arctic says the only communication she's had from him since his ordeal began was a reminder to pay the bills.

Peter Willcox, 60, is the captain of the “Arctic Sunrise,” a Greenpeace ship stormed by Russian Coast Guard officials on September 19.  Activists from the ship had attempted to scale an offshore platform owned by state-controlled energy giant Gazprom the day before.

Russian news services reported Thursday that all 30 members of the Greenpeace crew have been charged with piracy, a charge that can result in a 15-year prison term upon conviction.

His wife, back in Maine says she received her husband’s message via a U.S. State Department official who was allowed to board the vessel when Russian authorities dragged the ship to the port city of Murmansk.

"He called me up and told me that Peter looked good, looked healthy, he was in good spirits," Maggy Willcox told NBC News in a recent telephone interview.  

"He said, 'I have a message from your husband,'" Willcox said, referring to the American official who boarded the ship. "So, my heart goes pitter-pat, because we're still newlyweds. And the message was: ‘I have 45 days of heart medication and don't forget to pay the bills.’"

Willcox, 61, lives on a 14-mile island off the coast of Maine, where she publishes a local newspaper. The couple, who have known each other for years, just married in February.

Willcox said she saw video of her husband in custody, in which he appears to smile slightly."I like to think that grin is for me," she said. "If he can smile and weather it, so can I. I always take my cue from him."

Greenpeace has called the charges absurd. "This is an outrage and represents nothing less than an assault on the very principle of peaceful protest," Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo said.

The platform, which belongs to Gazprom's oil subsidiary, is the first offshore rig in the Arctic.

Naidoo took part in another action against Russian oil drilling last year, and given that no one was arrested, he said they did not expect such serious consequences this year.

“Never in our wildest dreams did we think people who were unarmed…acting in the public interest could be charged with piracy. The charge has come as a surprise.”

Naidoo is not optimistic about the future for the activists – since the charges have now been formally brought against them.

“It’s impossible for us to predict with certainty what a government will do in response,” he said.

For Willcox, keeping the faith that her husband will survive this ordeal is a daily struggle.  

Asked if she and Peter discussed the risk of the mission before he embarked, Willcox said no, but indicated that Peter may have known the dangers.

"Peter did sit me down this time and make me go over his bill-paying procedures – so I think he may have had an inkling that this was risky. But I don't think anybody imagined this response," she said.

“I would never ask Peter to stop doing what he loves,” Willcox added. “So I’m just hoping that somewhere there’s a God that’s watching out for us that will put a little bug in his ear, and say, ‘You’ve done enough.  It’s time to retire with your wife on a quiet little island off the coast of Maine. But I don’t know that Peter will ever feel that he’s done enough.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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