Rainbow Warrior captain among activists held in Russia

A veteran Greenpeace campaigner who was the captain of the ship Rainbow Warrior when it was bombed and sunk by French secret services in New Zealand in 1985 is among the activists detained by Russia for a protest in the Arctic.

Peter Willcox, a US citizen and the captain of Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise, was the captain of the environmental group's Rainbow Warrior vessel which was campaigning against French nuclear testing in the Pacific when it was sunk by French agents in Auckland Harbour.

He is one of 30 activists being held by Russia after a high seas protest against oil drilling in the Arctic by the Russian energy giant Gazprom earlier this month.

The Dutch-flagged vessel was seized by the Russian security forces who winched down from a helicopter in a commando-style operation last week.

Also among those held is Dmitri Litvinov, a Swedish national of Russian origin, who is the great-grandson of Maxim Litvinov, who was Soviet foreign minister for almost a decade under Joseph Stalin and held key ambassador posts under Vladimir Lenin.

The arrest of Willcox, who along with several other activists was Thursday ordered to stay in detention for two months, is just another chapter in an extraordinary career of activism with the group.

He first joined the Rainbow Warrior Greenpeace campaign ship in July 1981.

"By October I was captain, and stayed on as the only captain until the boat was blown up by French agents in New Zealand," he wrote in a recent blog published by the environmental lobby group.

"Since 1981, I guess about 90 percent of my life has been skippering Greenpeace boats."

The bombing of the Rainbow Warrior -- which claimed the life of a photographer working for Greenpeace -- is one of the most controversial acts ever committed by a government against an ecological group.

Two divers from the French foreign intelligence service attached two mines to the vessel and the explosion of the second mine killed photographer Fernando Pereira who had returned to the boat to collect his equipment. The ship sank as a result.

The French government initially tried to cover up its involvement but later admitted responsibility.

Willcox's comments published by Greenpeace before his arrest indicates he has never lost his zeal for campaigning.

"I'm sure everyone here on the Arctic Sunrise with me agrees that the Arctic must be saved from oil drilling, but if you're in doubt, just think about what a different place this planet would be without its polar deep freeze at the top of the world."