Protesters turn back Shell vessel

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) -– Shell’s Fennica icebreaker came out of dry dock on Thursday morning and headed towards the St. Johns Bridge in an attempt to pass under, despite protesters dangling to block it from leaving Portland for the Arctic on an oil-drilling mission.

US Coast Guard, July 30 2015. (KOIN)
US Coast Guard, July 30 2015. (KOIN)

At around 7:45 a.m., it appeared Fennica turned back towards the dry dock and officials reopened the St. Johns Bridge.

Celebrations and cheers ensued when protesters and onlookers realized the ship was turning around.

The vessel had been on the move and was being escorted by the US Coast Guard, who was repeatedly calling out to the protesters that they are in violation of the law and they must come down immediately.

You can watch the KOIN live stream here.

Protesters began lowering themselves towards the water, to block the ship as it came closer. There are about a dozen ‘kayaktavists’ on the water also attempting to block the ship.

Early Wednesday morning, 26 people used 13 ropes to rappel over the St. Johns Bridge to block the ship. They said they would do whatever it takes to stop it from heading for its oil-drilling mission.

The icebreaker Fennica arrived in Portland Saturday for repairs after it was damaged this month in the Aleutian Islands when it struck an underwater obstruction, tearing a gash in its hull.

The repaired vessel was expected to leave Portland on Wednesday. In the late afternoon, the Columbia River Bar Pilots confirmed to KOIN 6 News the Fennica will not leave on Wednesday.

“We believe their ambitions to drill for oil in the arctic are going to make the issue of tackling climate change even harder to address,” Vicky Wyatt with Greenpeace said.

Greenpeace spokespeople told KOIN 6 News a total of 13 people have secured themselves in place suspended from the bridge with enough supplies to last for days.

“I’m a little groggy right now, the sun is making me tired but that is OK,” protester Luke Strandquist who spoke to KOIN 6 News via cell phone said. “We’re willing to stick it out as long as we can. it’s a real crucial issue, crucial time, we have supplies, we have desire.”

Another 13 people are acting as look out and safety teams for the climbers under the bridge.

“They are standing in the way of Shell being about to go up and drill in the Arctic,” event coordinator Mary Nichol told KOIN 6 News. “If Shell is able to drill in the Artic it would be an absolute disaster.”

She added the only reason the icebreaker is in Portland is “because of (Shell’s) incompetence.”

Protesters blocking commercial water traffic could be charged federally, USCG says. The protesters were blocking the Shell icebreaker Fennica from leaving Portland, July 29, 2015 (KOIN)
Protesters blocking commercial water traffic could be charged federally, USCG says. The protesters were blocking the Shell icebreaker Fennica from leaving Portland, July 29, 2015 (KOIN)

Protester Luke Strandquist told KOIN 6 News the protest is a once in a lifetime chance to make a difference.

“We have very clear intentions today,” he said. “My intention is to be a physical block to the Fennica and keep Shell from drilling in the Artic.”

“We’re all pretty experienced climbers,” he explained. He said some of the climbers have hammocks, while other have platforms and some are just on chairs.

While many gathered nearby to support the protesters, there were spectators who criticized their efforts.

“Their message is they hate oil, they don’t want us to drill for oil,” Lars Larson said. “Yet, what are they using the ropes they’re hanging from are made of oil, a lot of the clothing they are wearing is made from oil.”

“They are experienced climbers. And safety is definitely our number one priority,” Nichols, the coordinator, says. “The climbers are prepared to stay here for as long as they can.”

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office operates the River Patrol Unit. Spokesperson Lt. Steve Alexander said deputies are at the bridge but will not take action unless someone hits the water and needs to be rescued.

Protesters unveil a "Shell No" sign in an organized effort to block the icebreaker Fennica from leaving Portland for the Arctic, July 29, 2015 (KOIN)
Protesters unveil a “Shell No” sign in an organized effort to block the icebreaker Fennica from leaving Portland for the Arctic, July 29, 2015 (KOIN)

ODOT spokesperson Don Hamilton told KOIN 6 News the protesters have set up their rope systems “professionally” and it does not appear to be damaging the bridge.

The icebreaker arrived at the Vigor drydock for repair. “Shell has said they will depart once preparations are complete,” Sause said in an email to KOIN 6 News.

Vigor, described as the leading ship repair facility in the Pacific Northwest, said they have performed routine maintenance on Fennica over the last 3 years.

They never considered not repairing the icebreaker, she said.

“We don’t set national energy policies. We support the energy policies of the Obama administration, which recognize that petroleum-based fuels remain essential to our economy and way of life. We also work on industrial projects that support alternative energy.”

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