PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) — Thirteen protesters from the environmental activism group Greenpeace rappelled over the side of the St. Johns Bridge Wednesday morning in an attempt to prevent a ship from leaving the area on its way to the arctic for an oil drilling operation.
The protesters, joined by 13 others who were serving as anchors on the deck of the bridge, suspended themselves over the Willamette River just before 3 a.m.
The protest is an attempt to prevent the MSV Fennica, a Shell Oil icebreaking vessel, from leaving a facility at Swan Island where it has been undergoing repairs.
Greenpeace said the ship must be at the drilling site before Shell can reapply for federal approval to drill, so they planned to do their best to prevent that from happening.
“We’ve been planning this for about two weeks, since Shell’s icebreaking vessel ran into something up in the arctic, got a 39-inch hole in its hull and had to race down here to Portland to be repaired,” said Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA.
“The window for drilling is closing, because there’s only a certain number of weeks that there’s no ice there, so Shell is really under time pressure to get that boat up there and we’re doing everything we can to delay that,” Leonard said.
The U.S. Coast Guard said commercial waterway traffic was not being affected by the protesters. The activists rigged their ropes so that they could raise and lower themselves as necessary to allow ships free passage.
The Fennica was scheduled to leave dock at 10 a.m. Wednesday, but the ultimate decision on when the ship leaves will come from Shell.
A Shell spokesman told FOX 12 the ship will leave “once we’ve completed final preparations.” However, it was not clear if that would happen Wednesday.
The Coast Guard said when the ship does leave dry dock, the Coast Guard will escort the Fennica down the Willamette River with a safety zone of 500 yards in front of the ship and 100 yards on either side.
Greenpeace said the activists plan to stay hanging from the bridge for as long as it takes, and they have enough supplies to last them several days.
The activists also kept their digital devices handy so they could share their exploits on the Internet.
Greenpeace said the rappellers have come from all over the country for the protest. They’re joined by local activists in kayaks who plan to block the ship’s passage in the water.
The protest was not affecting vehicle traffic on the bridge, but the sidewalks were blocked.
Portland police were on scene monitoring the situation, but officers told FOX 12 they didn’t have any immediate plans to put an end to the protest. It wasn’t clear if any of the protesters could eventually be arrested or face charges.