MOSCOW — Russia’s main investigative agency said Wednesday that it has dropped piracy charges against jailed Greenpeace activists and charged them instead with hooliganism, which could still mean years in prison.
The Investigative Committee’s statement follows a comment by President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who said last month that he doesn’t think that the Greenpeace activists were pirates.
Piracy is punishable by a prison term of up to 15 years . The specific hooliganism charge being applied now carries a maximum sentence of seven years.
The Investigative Committee also warned that it could file additional charges against the Greenpeace activists, including violence against authorities — punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The 28 Greenpeace activists, a Russian photographer, and a British videographer have been held since their ship, the ‘‘Arctic Sunrise,’’ was seized by the Russian Coast Guard after protesting outside the oil rig belonging to Russia’s Gazprom state energy giant on Sept. 18.
The Investigative Committee said that the detainees’ refusal to testify has impeded the investigation. ‘‘That prompts the investigators to thoroughly check all possible versions, including the seizure of the platform for financial benefit, terrorist motives, the conduct of illegal scientific research, and espionage,’’ the agency added.
It dismissed the Greenpeace claim that the protest was peaceful, saying it was a crime under an international law to try to seize an oil rig.
Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia said the activists ‘‘are no more hooligans than they were pirates’’ and should be freed immediately.
‘‘We will contest the trumped-up charge of hooliganism as strongly as we contested the piracy allegations. They are both fantasy charges that bear no relation to reality,’’ he said.
Chuprov dismissed the committee’s warning it may charge some of the activists with use of force against officials, pointing at Greenpeace’s 42-year history of peaceful protest.