PORTLAND, Oregon, July 28, 2015 (ENS) – Traveling in kayaks, climate change and environmental activists are surrounding the Shell Arctic drilling support ship Fennica in Portland harbor to keep it from leaving for the drilling site after repairs.
The 380-foot-long Fennica is under repair at Vigor Industrial’s Shipyard on Swan Island after sustaining a gash to its hull July 7 while heading out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska on its way to Shell’s drilling prospect in the Chukchi Sea.
“Shell’s newly-repaired icebreaker is planning to leave Portland early Wednesday morning,” the organizing group, Backbone Campaign, said in an email to ENS. “We are mobilizing a kayak flotilla and on-land support vigil to embargo the Fennica from heading to the Arctic.”
Brandishing signs with slogans such as, “sHell No, Save the Arctic,” several hundred kayaktivists gathered near Swan Island on Friday as the Fennica arrived and again on Saturday.
The demonstrators created an oil spill scene next to the ship “to illustrate the fate Shell has in store for the pristine Arctic waters and the wildlife and local communities that rely on them” they explained.
The Arctic spans eight countries, is home to more than 13 million people and provides habitat for whales, polar bears, walruses and rare seals. And now, it’s a battleground to keep oil giant Shell and others from drilling offshore.
The critics warn that drilling could cause an oil spill that could not be cleaned up, and burning the extracted fossil fuels will emit climate-damaging greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Last week the Obama Administration issued the last two permits that Shell needed to move forward with its drilling plans.
Shell is in a race against time as the company has only a brief three month window for drilling that opened on July 15 and closes on September 28 to complete its controversial operation.
The company has been approved to drill up to six wells within the Burger Prospect in the Chukchi Sea, located in 140 feet of water about 70 miles northwest of the village of Wainwright, Alaska.
In Portland, the U.S. Coast Guard established a “safety zone” around the ship to keep the demonstrators away from the Fennica, which carries the capping stack, a piece of equipment designed to cap an undersea well if it blows out as BP’s Deepwater Horizon well did in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
“The Coast Guard is responsible for ensuring the safety, security and environmental stewardship in our navigable waterways,” said Capt. David Berliner, deputy commander, Coast Guard Sector Columbia River and alternate captain of the port. “Everyone’s safety is our top priority.”
A safety zone extending 500 yards in front of the vessel and 100 yards to the port, starboard and astern of the vessel will be in place around the Fennica while the vessel is transiting, and a 100-yard safety zone will be in place around the vessel while moored, at anchor or in dry dock.
“Whether intentional or unintentional, interference with deep-draft and other vessels, particularly those with limited ability to maneuver, has the potential to result in collision, grounding, serious injury, death or pollution in the highly sensitive ecosystem of Columbia and Willamette Rivers,” said Capt. Berliner.
Shell said it has hired a security team to protect the Fennica. Multnomah County River Patrol officials also are prepared to respond, if called.
Shell spokesperson Megan Baldino told reporters, “We respect the rights of individuals and groups to express their opinion. All we ask is they do so within the confines of the law and keep safety as their number one priority.”
Shell drilling activities have faced protests all along the West Coast. In Seattle, kayaktivists engaged in a protest around a Shell drilling rig Polar Pioneer in Seattle in May, when more than 100 paddlers demonstrated their opposition to the arctic drilling for oil in the Arctic.
On June 17, Canadian indigenous artist and activist Audrey Siegl approached the 300-foot-tall Polar Pioneer drill rig in an inflatable boat launched from the Greenpeace ship MY Esperanza, while two Greenpeace Canada swimmers spread out in the water behind her to put their bodies in the way of the rig.
“My message to Shell is that you may have money and massive machines, but a people united are more powerful,” declared Siegl. “Together, we will stop Arctic drilling to defend our coast and our climate.”