Russia frees Greenpeace activist Peter Willcox on bail after oil drilling protest

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia-- A Russian jail has freed on bail the U.S. captain of a Greenpeace ship and six crewmembers who were arrested following an anti-oil drilling protest in Arctic waters two months ago.

Peter Willcox was released from a St. Petersburg prison on Friday along with the others, bringing the total number of those freed to 18 of the 30 people on the ship who had been detained.

"I feel like I'm down out of the tree but still in the forest," Willcox told journalists. "But it's a big step."

All 30 still face hooliganism charges, which carry a sentence of up to seven years. They were detained after some of the activists aboard the Arctic Sunrise ship attempted to scale an offshore drilling platform owned by the state-owned natural gas giant Gazprom.

Crewmembers Marco Weber of Switzerland, Mannes Ubels and Faiza Oulahsen of the Netherlands, Paul Ruzycki of Canada, Anthony Perrett of the United Kingdom, and British freelance videographer Kieron Bryan were also released Friday.

Judges this week granted bail, set at 2 million rubles ($61,500), to 26 people from the Greenpeace ship. The remaining three detainees are expected to hear their rulings Friday.

Greenpeace lawyers are filing an appeal for the release of Australian Colin Russell, who was denied bail on Monday. Photographer Denis Sinyakov, who was released on Thursday, said he believed the decision to grant bail to the detainees came from the top - and Russell, who was the first to face the court, was denied bail simply because the judge hadn't gotten the signal in time.

It remained unclear whether the foreigners, who have no Russian visas, would be allowed to leave the country.