PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – Greenpeace joined local activists Wednesday morning at St. Johns Bridge to block Royal Dutch Shell from moving a crucial ship to the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska, where the company plans to begin drilling for oil.
The addition of dangling activists comes four days after a coalition of locals took to their kayaks on Saturday to block Shell’s icebreaker, the MSV Fennica, from making its way out to sea. Members of the group have taken shifts to maintain their presence in the water.
One “kayaktivist,” Daphne Wysham, director of the climate and energy program for the Center for Sustainable Economy, said the group was “delighted” when Greenpeace activists joined them on Wednesday.
Thirteen Greenpeace activists appeared Wednesday morning, suspended in climbing gear 100 feet below the deck of the St. Johns Bridge.
Greenpeace activist Luke Strandquist said the view was beautiful as he dangled in a hammock chair.
“I can see all the way the way to Mt. Hood, way down the river in both directions and a fair amount of the city too,” Strandquist said in a phone interview.
“We’ll stay for as long as we have to,” Strandquist said. “As long as it takes to prevent Shell from getting to the arctic.”
The Fennica is one of Shell’s two main icebreakers in the Arctic. But it also carries a piece of equipment called a “capping stack,” which it would use to stop gushing oil in the event of a blowout. The Obama administration required the presence of such equipment for Shell to begin drilling.
“By stopping this ship, it’s literally putting us between them and drilling for oil in the arctic,” Strandquist said.
“Portland is the final line in the sand,” Wysham said. “If we can keep the Fennica here, they won’t be able to start drilling.”
The ship was moored on Swan Island in the Willamette River undergoing repairs to a 3-foot tear in its hull.
Mary Nichol, arctic campaigner with Greenpeace, said the group took action because of a consensus among scientists that drilling for oil in the arctic is tantamount to inviting climate disaster.
“If we want to stop the most detrimental effects of climate change, arctic oil must stay in the ground,” Nichol said.
Nichol said Shell has repeatedly shown that it is unable to drill safely in the Arctic.
In 2012, Shell oil rig the Kulluk crashed into a remote Alaskan island. The U.S. Coast Guard investigated and found that safety violations contributed to the incident. Rear Adm. Joseph Servidio wrote that Shell had moved the Kulluk across the Gulf of Alaska on New Year’s Eve, despite its lack of understanding about the dangers of moving the ship during winter, because it was worried about having to pay millions in taxes if the boat stayed in Alaskan waters until the new year.
Activists also want answers about the damage that brought the Fennica to Portland for repairs.
Citing marine tracking data, Oceana says the ship may have traveled through dangerously shallow water in Alaska’s Port of Dutch Harbor just before crew discovered the tear in its hull that brought it to Portland.
“The only reason they’re here is because of their own incompetence,” Nichol said.
Nichol said there was no way to predict the company’s next move, or what the activists might do about it.
But one thing was clear.
“Shell should expect that every place they show up there will be resistance,” Nichol said.
The activism comes in the midst of Portland’s third heat wave this summer. The mercury was set to hit 97 in the usually temperate city on Wednesday, and 100 on both Thursday and Friday.
“We’re standing here on one of the hottest days of the summer,” Wysham said. “And unfortunately we’re going to continue to see more drought, more flooding, more disastrous storms. Scientists expected this level of climate change to happen at the end of the century. And if our politicians won’t take action, then it’s up to us to take matters into our own hands.”
The police presence on Wednesday afternoon was minimal, with no officers visible along the river in Cathedral Park where protesters and supporters had gathered. Up the hill, police had roped off the sidewalks on either side of the bridge and stood guard, turning away pedestrians and bicyclists.
“If you want to know the truth, I agree with them,” said one Portland police officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I don’t think there should be drilling in the Arctic either.”
A spokesman for Shell did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Along the Willamette, two dozen kayaks were poised to launch from a boat ramp. A white tent served as headquarters for the protesters, with a buffet provided by the local chapter of Food Not Bombs.
A hot breeze blew napkins off the table as a kayaker drove up and draped an elbow out of her car window.
“OBP just announced that Shell said it respects our right to protest, but the Fennica will depart when it’s ready,” she called out to a dozen protesters milling around.
“Them’s fightin’ words,” said an activist with a paddle in her hand.
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