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Shell Icebreaker Retreats After Morning Showdown

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by Jes Burns and Cassandra Profita OPB | July 29, 2015 2:34 p.m. | Updated: July 30, 2015 8:58 a.m. | Portland, Oregon

A Shell icebreaking vessel being protested by activist groups has turned around and is headed back toward the dry dock after a morning showdown with protesters. The St. Johns Bridge was reopened after being temporarily closed.

The U.S. Coast Guard was escorting the icebreaker on the Willamette River and warned the activists that they are breaking the law.

Georgia Faye Hirsty was one of the 13 hanging protestors. Speaking from her mobile phone while hanging from the bridge on Wednesday, she said she was glad to know the Arctic-bound icebreaker would remain in Portland for another day. But she said she and her fellow demonstrators weren’t about to declare victory and go home.

“We’re prepared to stay as long as we can to have them cancel their departure tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that,” said Hirsty, a Greenpeace employee who had traveled to Portland from California for the protest.

The Greenpeace activists intended to physically block passage of the MSV Fennica as it passed under the bridge, about a mile downriver from where it’s been in dry dock. Dozens of protesters in kayaks also crisscrossed the Willamette River intending to block passage.  The climate activists oppose Royal Dutch Shell’s ongoing efforts to drill for oil in the ocean off Alaska.  

Scott Goddard of Tacoma paddled out into the river in a kayak just after 2 a.m. Wednesday morning thinking the icebreaker could leave the dock around 4 a.m. His goal, along with dozens of other kayakers with several environmental groups, was to form a blockade on the water that would prevent the ship from leaving town. Goddard said they had no idea that Greenpeace had planned its own blockade from above.

“Unbeknownst to us, as we were putting the boats in the water, we saw the lights of the climbers descending from the bridge, which was just an incredibly magical moment for all of us,” he said. “We didn’t really know what was going on. Greenpeace obviously trumped our efforts, much to our delight.”

Later in the day on Wednesday, Goddard was back at the dock, waiting for the ship to start its transit before he got back in his kayak again.

The Shell vessel arrived in Portland for repairs last weekend. It was originally scheduled to depart for Alaska Wednesday morning.  

The Columbia River Bar Pilots, which tracks shipping traffic, removed the Fennica from its departure list at around 1 p.m. A dispatcher reached by telephone confirmed it had been cancelled for the day. Columbia River Pilots confirmed this.  

As the 13 protesters dangling from the bridge raised long red and yellow banners one by one, a Greenpeace support group on the dock below rallied supporters below. Dozens of people on the dock cheered and shouted in unison: “We love you!”

About a hundred people gathered in North Portland’s Cathedral Park to watch the protesters from shore. Many took turns paddling out into the river under the St. Johns Bridge in solidarity with the Greenpeace protesters suspended from the span.

The Greenpeace activists took their positions in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Organizers say they have enough supplies to remain suspended from the bridge for several days.  

By Wednesday afternoon, the icebreaker was still docked and out of the water. The front portion of the deck remained covered with a large tarp.  

Portland Police have allowed the dangling protesters and their support crews to remain on the St. Johns Bridge. A Police spokesman said officers will “continue monitoring and making sure everyone’s safe.”

Contributing: Associated Press

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