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Russia drops piracy charges against Greenpeace activists, replaces them with hooliganism charges

Russia dropped piracy charges against Greenpeace activists on Wednesday, replacing them with hooliganism charges instead.

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The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise enters the Northern Sea Route (NSR) off Russia's coastline to protest against Arctic oil drilling, in defiance of Russian authorities. The activists aboard were later detained and jailed pending charges. (Will Rose/Greenpeace/Courtesy)

Russia dropped piracy charges against Greenpeace activists on Wednesday, replacing them with hooliganism charges instead.

The new charge against them has a maximum penalty of seven years in prison, as opposed to the 15-year maximum sentence that piracy holds, and comes after President Vladimir Putin said he didn't think the activists were pirates.

Russia also announced on Wednesday that it would boycott maritime court hearings sought by the Netherlands for the 30 people who were aboard Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise ship during a protest against Arctic oil drilling last month.

More from GlobalPost: Greenpeace activists could face terrorism charges in Russia after Arctic oil rig protest

"The Russian side has informed the Netherlands and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea... that it does not intend to take part in the tribunal's hearings," the state-run RIA Novosti news agency quoted an unnamed Russian foreign ministry official as saying.

Greenpeace activists accused Russian authorities of using force when storming their ship during the Sept. 19 protest.

They described a scene of 15 men in balaclavas seizing the Arctic Sunrise, with ship Captain Pete Willcox refusing to sail toward the port city of Murmansk after the demand was made at gunpoint.

The Russian foreign ministry initially described the activists' protest as "aggressive and provocative" behavior that "threatened people's lives and could lead to environmental catastrophe in the Arctic with unpredictable consequences."

Greenpeace fought back, saying its ship was seized in international waters and demanding Putin order the coast guard to withdraw.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/russia/131023/russia-drops-piracy-charges-against-greenpeace-activists-