Greenpeace activists have piracy charges dropped by Russia
Greenpeace's ship, Arctic Sunrise, being towed into the Russian port of Murmansk.
Protesters who were aboard Arctic Sunrise and have been held over a month now face far lesser charges of hooliganism
Russia has dropped piracy charges against 30 people involved in a Greenpeace protest over Arctic oil drilling, replacing them with lesser charges, the Itar-Tass news agency reported on Wednesday, citing federal investigators.
Investigative committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said the charges against activists who protested at an oil platform last month had been changed from piracy, which carries a maximum jail sentence of 12 years, to hooliganism which has a lesser punishment, Itar-Tass reported.
The boat was seized by Russian coastguards last month as it approached the Prirazlomnaya oil rig, an offshore Arctic drilling platform operated by the state energy giant Gazprom.
President Vladimir Putin said it was "completely obvious" that the environmentalists were not pirates, but Russia's investigative committee went ahead with the charges.
The activists come from 18 different countries and include six Britons. Investigators also claim that they found drugs on board the ship and have hinted that new charges could be forthcoming.
All of the activists have been refused bail, despite bail securities being pledged, and the head of Greenpeace International, Kumi Naidoo, offering in an open letter to Putin to come to Russia as a human bail guarantee ahead of trials.