Last month we saw Greenpeace protesters in kayaks attempt to block the exit of a deep sea oil rig from Seattle. That effort failed, though they did manage to massively pollute the harbor and endanger both marine life and people in the process. Never ones to learn a lesson in defeat, the protest has now moved along the coast to Portland, Oregon. In the Portland Sound, Shell’s leased icebreaker, the Fennica, had finished up repairs to its hull in dry dock and was preparing to get underway for the Arctic. Unfortunately, supporters of Greenpeace got wind of the deployment and decided to suspend themselves from the St. Johns Bridge on Wednesday, dangling down in the ship’s proposed path. They were still there today when the ship was ready to depart.
A Shell Oil drilling vessel was blocked from leaving Portland, Oregon, on Thursday morning by a group of Greenpeace protesters dangling off of the St. Johns Bridge over the Willamette River.
The Fennica was headed to the Arctic for an oil-drilling mission when protesters on the bridge lowered themselves by ropes toward the water and chanted, “Shell, no!” according to a local NBC affiliate. The ship was forced to turn around around 8 a.m. local time.
Dozens of other people were in kayaks on the water under the bridge. The U.S. Coast Guard told the protesters to leave, but they remained in their spots.
The reporting on this story is nearly as off base and skewed as the people protesting it. The first thing to know is that this is not “A Shell Oil drilling vessel.” The MSV Fennica is an icebreaker and supply platform vessel which Shell rents from a Dutch firm to clear the ice around potential drilling sites so the actual drilling vessels can get in and do their work. It’s one of three being used by the company in that region and was damaged on a shoal off the coast of Alaska early this month. The repairs were relatively minor.
This protest seemed to be composed of two parts. One was the kayaks, just as in Seattle. The Coast Guard ordered them to clear the harbor but the eco-terrorists refused. Had they been alone, it likely wouldn’t have been an issue. If they were unable to stop an oil rig they could have been brushed aside fairly easily and safely by an icebreaker. Unfortunately, the maniacs dangling from ropes on the bridge are a different matter. If they were low enough to get caught in the superstructure there could have been injuries or deaths. (Though it would clearly have been their own fault, so it’s a pity that the Fennica’s captain didn’t just plow on through anyway.)
The real question is how the police were so completely ineffective. The local coverage indicates that Portland police were on the scene, blocked traffic over the bridge for a time and reopened it for vehicular passage later in the morning. The protesters had been hanging there since yesterday. From the extensive photos on the local paper’s web site there were at most a dozen lines dropped down at any given time. With more than twelve hours to tackle the problem, surely they could have reeled them up and arrested them. Blocking a shipping channel is obviously illegal but it sounds as if they made no serious effort to put the eco-terrorists in jail.
If this is some sort of sanctuary city for terrorist activity, the solution is simple: Shell and other companies using the facilities there should move their business elsewhere. There are numerous other ports who could use the business up and down that stretch of coast, including in Canada. Once dock workers begin losing their jobs, perhaps local officials will take problems such as this more seriously.