Recap: Shell vessel retreats from St. Johns Bridge
PORTLAND, Ore. — On July 30, 2015, a group of environmental activists staged one of the most dramatic protests in Oregon history.
The protest made national headlines and temporarily stopped a massive icebreaker from its mission to clear the way for a Shell Oil Company operation in the Arctic Alaska.
Two years later, we revisited the historic event and learned what happened to the protesters, drilling project and the ship.
The Shell protest began with a damaged ship.
Shell contracted a 381-foot-long ship, named MSV Fennica, to blast through ice in the Arctic and make way for an oil exploration operation.
But the Fennica was sidelined by a tear in its hull. As commercial ships often do, the Fennica made its way into the Portland Harbor to Swan Island for repairs.
As it was getting patched, a group of activists mobilized by the national organization Greenpeace gathered to halt the ship’s exit.
On the night of July 29, thirteen protesters climbed onto the St. Johns Bridge and rappelled down. They hung from slings and held red and yellow banners that licked the air like flames.
Meanwhile, kayakers filled the Willamette River to further block the Fennica’s escape route. By mid-day on Thursday, June 30, a couple hundred self-identified “kayaktavists” gathered under the bridge, as protesters continued to hang hundreds of feet in the air. Protesters held signs proclaiming #ShellNo, which became the hashtag that exploded on social media.
As the Fennica approached, the protesters held steady, despite police calls to disband.
After a dramatic hours-long standoff, the Fennica retreated to the dry dock where it had undergone repairs.
But financial and law enforcement pressure escalated. A judge ruled Greenpeace would be fined $2,500 an hour if protesters continued to block the ship. Police began towing kayaks and ordering the dangling protesters to disband.
The rapelling activists eventually lowered themselves down, while the U.S. Coast Guard and sheriff’s deputies cleared a path on the river.
At 6 p.m., the Fennica passed under the bridge on its way to the Arctic.
Federal records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show only four of the 13 protesters who dangled from the St. Johns Bridge were cited by the U.S. Coast Guard. They each paid a $2,500 fine.
Mark Floegel, Michael Luurtsema, Elizabeth Mount and Benjamin Reynoso blocked the Fennica by rapelling from the bridge, according to Coast Guard records.
Three members of the support team were also fined $2,500. Records show Caroline Hansley, Katharine Loncke, and Sharon Spencer were cited for refusing to leave the bridge.
Police initially detained other protesters, but made only one arrest. Portland resident Robert Majure, 24, was charged with criminal trespass after locking himself to a railroad bridge.
Court records show the charge was later dismissed after Majure completed community service.
The Shell Oil project
Despite winning the battle in Portland, Shell abandoned its controversial and expensive drilling operations in Arctic Alaska in the fall of 2015.
Shell said it made a marginal discovery of oil and gas in the Chukchi Sea but not enough to continue the effort.
The company also decided not to renew the injunction against the protesters. As a result, the court dismissed the $2,500-an-hour fine against Greenpeace for blocking the Fennica.
“It remains our view that protesters who attempted to block the passage of the MSV Fennica in Portland did so with flagrant disregard for the law and the judicial system -- unnecessarily placing everyone involved at an extreme risk of harm,” said Curtis Smith, spokesman for Shell.
Greenpeace, meanwhile, declared a symbolic victory after Shell’s announcement to cease Arctic drilling operations.
“Shell is used to breezing through important environmental regulatory processes without a scratch, but this time people were watching. All year, comments poured into the Department of the Interior, as millions of people pled to President Obama’s administration to pull the brakes on Shell’s drilling,” wrote April Glaser of Greenpeace in a September 2015 blog post.
The MSV Fennica is a multipurpose vessel built in 1993 to be used for icebreaking and as a transportation platform for offshore gas and oil operations. It was built in Finland and at 381 feet is longer than most other icebreakers.
The Fennica has the ability to break ice a meter thick in the Arctic, sub-Arctic and Antarctic regions. The Fennica also has a crane it can use for offshore construction. It can be on the ocean for as long as three months without refueling.
The Fennica is used for charter operations half of the year and during the winter is used for icebreaking in the Baltic Sea around Finland. Halliburton Offshore has also previously contracted to use the Fennica.
The Fennica is currently in port in Rauma, Finland according to the vessel tracking website Marinetraffic.com.
Published July 27, 2017