Seattle ‘kayaktivists’ form blockade as Shell rig heads to Alaskan waters

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Backbone Campaign/Flikr

By Renee Lewis / Al Jazeera America / June 15, 2015

Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic drilling rig left Seattle’s port on Monday, despite a last-minute kayak blockade set up to stop its departure, the latest in a series of protests over the past month against the company’s plans to explore for oil in the Arctic.

The rig, called the Polar Pioneer, will head to Alaskan waters to drill exploratory wells approved last month by the U.S. government.

About a dozen “kayaktivists” hit the water around 4 a.m. after groups heard that Shell’s rig was moving out, Greenpeace spokeswoman Cassady Sharp said. Soon after, up to 50 additional kayak protesters lined up in a blockade meant to stop the Polar Pioneer from leaving.

Hundreds of activists had been on a text message loop that alerted them as the rig moved out, organizers told Al Jazeera. “Shell is attempting to depart Seattle tomorrow morning. Make sure your go bag is ready before bed and keep your phone charged,” ShellNo Action Council, which organized the protest, said on its Facebook page late Sunday night.

The U.S. Coast Guard detained several people Monday, mostly for violating the safety zone around the rig. Lt. Dana Warr, a spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard, said the rig departed around 6 a.m. with police and Coast Guard enforcing the safety zone. Among those arrested was Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, a local Fox affiliate reported.

“The rig is on the move despite the brave and heroic efforts by kayaktivists,” ShellNo Action Council said on its Facebook page Monday morning.

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said the rig is on its way to Alaska and that the company remained “committed to operating in a safe, environmentally responsible way.”

After exploratory drilling near Alaska, the Polar Pioneer will head to Arctic waters to explore for oil; the region is believed to hold up to one-third of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves.

As the Polar Pioneer moved north in the Puget Sound on its way to Alaska, a new protest was called in Port Townsend, a town at the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula where kayaktivists hoped to head off the rig later on Monday. Activists hope to stop Shell’s fleet from leaving by the end of June.

Protesters say any drilling accidents by Shell could prove disastrous in the unpredictable weather of the Arctic region. They also argue that remaining oil reserves should be left in the ground in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Ahead of the rig’s arrival in Seattle, the city’s mayor, Ed Murray, told the Seattle Times that the Port of Seattle did not have the correct permit to host the Polar Pioneer. Although Murray acknowledged that this move might not stop the Port from hosting Shell’s rig, the mayor said he hoped it would cause the Port to reconsider its plans.

“While requiring a permit may not stop the Port’s plans, it does give the Port an opportunity to pause, an opportunity to rethink the issue,” Murray said on May 4. “This is an opportunity, I believe, for the Port and all of us to make a bold statement about how oil companies contribute to climate change, oil spills and other environmental disasters.”

Shell has not drilled in the Arctic since its mishap-filled 2012 season, in which its Kulluk drill rig ran aground. Seattle protesters have demonstrated against Arctic drilling, and the docking of the Polar Pioneer in the city’s Elliot Bay, since it arrived last month.

On May 16, hundreds of activists went out on the water in kayaks to show their opposition to the planned drilling. Last week, six members of Seattle’s Raging Grannies activist group were detained after locking themselves to railroad tracks outside the port where the Polar Pioneer was docked, in an attempt to slow work on the rig.

With wire services

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