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Russian court denies bail for Greenpeace crew accused of piracy in Arctic protest

The crew and the American captain of a Greenpeace ship charged with piracy for a protest at a Russian oil platform in the Arctic were denied bail Monday, the environmental activist group told NBC News.

Peter Willcox, 60, and his crew of about 30 protesters were arrested Sept. 19, a day after some of them tried to climb the Prirazlomnaya oil rig, which Gazprom, the state oil company, operates in the Arctic Ocean near the tiny settlement of Verandey. The piracy charges carry sentences of up to 15 years in jail.

Greenpeace and other environmental groups have protested the rig because of what they say are the unique circumstances in the area — it's sealed off from other oceans, meaning a potential oil spill couldn't disperse, critically endangering polar bears and other Arctic wildlife.

Greenpeace confirmed to NBC News that the court in the northern Russian city of Murmansk denied bail for Willcox and other members of the crew.

Russian media quoted Willcox, 60, as saying Monday that he has "many regrets" about participating in the mission.

Willcox's wife, Maggie, reacting to two photographs of her husband in court published by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, said he looked "tired and sad."

"Peter doesn't look so good. It just breaks my heart," she told NBC News by telephone from her home on a small island off the coast of Maine.

Peter Willcox "doesn't back down from things easily," she said, but he is likely worried and homesick. The Willcoxes have been married only eight months, and that "puts a whole different light on things for him," she said. 

"I think he's probably anxious about what's going to happen," said Maggie Willcox, who received her first letter from him only last week.

"The national pastime in Russia seems to be smoking," she said, describing details of her husband's letter. "Everyone smokes. He's developed a nice dry cough to show for it. His cellmate smokes."  

Crew members are separated from one another, and her husband's cellmate is a stranger. 

"They have a small flat-screen TV in their cell, and he can watch Eurosport," she told NBC News.

Greenpeace told NBC News that all 30 activists have been provided one set of warm fleece clothing and water boilers. It it had dispatched representatives to Murmansk, along with care packages of books and warm clothes.  

In the meantime, the group says, its lawyers have appealed the piracy charges and have called Russia's seizure of the boat illegal.

"They were in international waters — that's not in dispute," said Keiller MacDuff, a spokeswoman for Greenpeace.

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