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Fines ordered as long as ship blocked from heading to Arctic

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Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 21.06.27By STEVEN DuBOIS and DAN JOLING

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A federal judge in Alaska on Thursday ordered Greenpeace USA to pay a fine of $2,500 for every hour that protesters dangle from a bridge in Oregon and block a Royal Dutch Shell icebreaker from leaving for oil drilling in the Arctic.

There was no sign that the protesters were going to abandon the blockade in Portland after the ruling in Anchorage by U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason that Greenpeace is in civil contempt.

Greenpeace USA Executive Director Annie Leonard said the activists will stay in place for now.

“We are confronted with a huge decision, one we cannot make alone,” she said in a statement. “Right now we’re asking the activists what they think we should do next.”

Gleason in May granted Shell’s request that activists protesting Shell’s Arctic drilling plans be ordered to stay away from company vessels and beyond buffer zones.

Earlier in the day, the Shell oil icebreaker Fennica retreated when activists dangling from the St. Johns Bridge over the Willamette River refused to leave and to let the vessel pass.

Protesters on the bridge and kayakers on the river have been blocking the icebreaker from heading to the Arctic for a drill operation.

The Fennica arrived in Portland for repairs last week. The vessel was damaged earlier this month in the Aleutian Islands when it struck an underwater obstruction, tearing a gash in its hull.

It resumed its journey to the Arctic early Thursday before stopping in the face of 13 dangling activists linked by ropes. The ship turned around and inched its way back to dry dock, delighting people gathered on shore in the city known for environmentalism.

The U.S. Coast Guard warned the danglers that they were breaking the law but took no action. Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener did not elaborate.

He also said the agency had not told the icebreaker to turn around.

“I don’t know what led the master and the pilot on board to come to that decision,” he said.

The icebreaker is a key part of Shell’s exploration and spill-response plan off Alaska’s northwest coast. It protects Shell’s fleet from ice and carries equipment that can stop the flow of oil that gushes from wells.

Environmentalists hope to delay the ship long enough for winter weather to prevent Shell from drilling until 2016. By that time, they hope the Obama administration has a change of heart on the issue.

At the court hearing in Anchorage, Judge Gleason said the hourly fine against Greenpeace would increase over the next few days unless the blockade is lifted. It would jump to $5,000 an hour on Friday, $7,500 an hour on Saturday, and $10,000 an hour on Sunday.

“They need to be off the ropes,” she said.

The St. Johns Bridge is at a key location on the Fennica’s route from Portland to the Arctic. The ship’s journey will take it beneath the bridge, down the Willamette to the Columbia River which leads to the Pacific Ocean.

Portland police closed the bridge to traffic during the standoff. It was reopened shortly after the icebreaker reversed course.

The activists say they have water and food for the long haul. They also have their phones to stay in the social-media loop.

“The Fennica is headed back to its dock where it belongs — not the Arctic! #ShellNo,” tweeted Dan Cannon, a Greenpeace activist dangling from the bridge.

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Joling reported from Anchorage, Alaska.

SOURCE

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