A Russian court granted bail to the captain of a Greenpeace ship that carried out a protest against oil and gas drilling in the Arctic as the first of the 30 people detained over the incident left prison.
The captain of Arctic Sunrise, American Peter Wilcox, became the 15th to be granted bail, Greenpeace said in an e-mailed statement. A Dutch national and a U.K. citizen were also offered conditional release at hearings in St. Petersburg today, while a Brazilian became the first to be set free on bail.
The environmental organization said it’s paying bail of 2 million rubles ($61,000) for each activist. Wilcox was in charge of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior when it was sunk in Auckland in 1985 by a bomb planted by the French intelligence service.
Russia has faced worldwide protests and a legal claim from the Netherlands since it impounded Greenpeace’s ship and charged the campaigners with piracy, which is punishable by as much as 15 years in prison. Prosecutors then cut the charges to hooliganism, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years.
The legal moves have the potential to defuse a dispute that has pitted the world’s biggest energy exporter against Greenpeace after Russia detained 30 people for participating in a protest at an OAO Gazprom offshore oil platform in September. Russian authorities last week transferred 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists from 18 countries to St. Petersburg from the port city of Murmansk, easing consular access to them.
Russian courts are softening their attitude to Greenpeace protesters, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters today in Moscow, declining to comment further.
Putin said in September that while the Greenpeace workers “clearly” aren’t pirates, they violated international law by trying to seize a drilling platform. The action alarmed Russian officials, who couldn’t be certain who was trying to board the rig, according to Putin.
The activists include citizens of the U.S., Finland, Argentina, Switzerland, the U.K., Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Ukraine, Russia, France, Italy, Turkey, Poland and Sweden, according to Greenpeace.