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Police Remove Greenpeace Activists from Portland Bridge After They Forced Shell Ship Back to Port

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In Portland, Oregon, law enforcement officers have removed Greenpeace activists who spent 40 hours suspended from the St. Johns Bridge in order to block an icebreaking ship commissioned by oil giant Shell from leaving for the Arctic. Hundreds of activists have been gathering on the bridge and in kayaks since Tuesday night in efforts to stop Shell's plans to drill in the remote Chukchi Sea. Early Thursday morning, the suspended Greenpeace activists successfully forced Shell's ship to turn back to port in a showdown that grabbed international headlines. Joining us to discuss the action is Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA.

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AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show in Portland, Oregon, where law enforcement officers have removed Greenpeace activists who spent 40 hours suspended from a bridge in order to block an icebreaking ship commissioned by the oil giant Shell from leaving for the Arctic. Hundreds of activists have been gathering on the bridge and in kayaks since Tuesday night in efforts to stop Shell's plans to drill in the remote Chukchi Sea. Early Thursday morning, the suspended Greenpeace activists successfully forced Shell's ship to turn back to port in a showdown that grabbed international headlines. Greenpeace activist Kristina Flores discussed watching the ship turn around as she stood on top of St. Johns Bridge on Thursday.

KRISTINA FLORES: This morning was quite the adventure. It felt really, really great to watch the Fennica turn around and go back to port. That was just a really great, great sign that we are winning, that we are strong, and when the people come together, we can win. And we will win.

AMY GOODMAN: Joining us from Portland, Oregon, is Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA.

Annie, we spoke to you a few days ago. You were on the bridge at the time, as the Greenpeace activists descended by rope from the bridge to try to stop this Shell rig from going through. Can you tell us what's happened since?

ANNIE LEONARD: Well, yesterday was an absolutely incredible day, a display of people power. Throughout the day, the crowds just kept growing, as you said. There were hundreds of kayakers going in shifts, filling the river so that if the boat tried to leave, there would be both lines of defense -- the aerial barricade and then the people.

In the morning, Shell went -- got a hearing in a court in Alaska. Shell had taken out a preliminary injunction prohibiting us from going within a certain distance of them and prohibiting us from interfering with their work. The court did find us in contempt of court and ordered us to get off the bridge and fined us hourly fines starting at $2,500 an hour, going up to $10,000 an hour. We met with the climbers on the bridge. We really felt it was their decision, first and foremost. And we all decided to stay on the bridge, that saving the Arctic was worth more than the monetary value of the fine that they were imposing. So we stayed absolutely put there.

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Then, around 3:00 in the afternoon, the police came out to the bridge and began to escort the anchors off. The anchors were the people that each climber had on the bridge to ensure their safety, who stayed there 24/7. They took them away, gave them very minor citations and released them. Then they started to force the climbers down. And in an incredible display of just absolute chaos, the police and the Coast Guard came, forced the climbers down and began to take them all away. And they only opened up -- didn't take all of them; they opened up an opening large enough for the Shell ship to come through. The ship started to come, and dozens and dozens of kayakers came and threw themselves in front of the ship. People jumped out of their kayaks to try to stop them. People were on inflatable pool toys. And it was absolute chaos. The Coast Guard ran over one of the kayakers. I mean, it was absolute mayhem.

The Coast Guard managed to pull all the kayakers away, one by one, in a very dangerous situation, clearing just enough space for the Shell vessel to squeak through. It came so close to the remaining climbers that were there, squeaked through. People on the shore literally started crying. It was just heartbreaking to watch this thing go through, because we know the climate implications. It squeaked through, and then it headed out to sea to go up to the Arctic and start the drilling process.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's talk about why that ship came into port in Portland. In fact, it was already out at sea. It was already in the Arctic but got a hole in it somehow? Sprung a leak?

ANNIE LEONARD: Right, that's a very -- that's a very important point, too. This whole thing happened in Portland because of Shell's incompetence. The Arctic is a very, very dangerous place to drill, and all the other oil companies have dropped out and said it is too dangerous, too expensive, it just doesn't make sense. This ship is required to be there when the drilling happens. The permit requires it. It ran into something and got a 39-inch hole in its hull. It couldn't be fixed in Alaska, presumably didn't want to go back to Seattle, where there had been such protest, so it came to Portland on a very tight timeline to repair it and then get back up to the Arctic. And that's why this blockade was so powerful, was that any delay that we could have shortened the amount of time that Shell can drill this summer, because they have such a short ice-free window. They have to get up there, drill and get out before the winter ice returns.

AMY GOODMAN: So how long did it take this ship, that had sprung a leak, which makes you nervous about other things that could go wrong in the Arctic that involve oil spills -- it took it what? Something like 12 days to make its way down, in this very narrow window, to get fixed, turn around and then come back -- go back?

ANNIE LEONARD: That's right. And so, presumably, it will take another 12 days to get back up there.

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