Oil rig occupiers docked at Ogden Point are keen for next protest

Greenpeace activists Andreas Widlund and Zoe Buckley Lennox were nervous but excited as they put on their gear one April morning at dawn.

Minutes later, the skilled climbers would leave their vessel with four others and scale a Royal Dutch Shell oil rig 1,200 kilometres northwest of Hawaii, setting up camp in protest.

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“It had been a long time building to that moment — a month of preparations,” said Widlund, 27, who is from Sweden.

For Buckley Lennox, a 21-year-old Australian, the view before disembarking was auspicious.

“The sun was rising and the water looked so smooth — it was like glass,” she said. “The Pacific was on our side.”

The activists spoke from Ogden Point, the first place they have docked since occupying the Shell vessel for six days in a protest they consider a success, because it raised awareness of the risks of offshore drilling in the Arctic. Their ship Esperanza, a former Russian firefighting vessel, will remain in port until Tuesday, as it changes crew.

The six international activists were among 35 people aboard Esperanza that followed a heavy-lift vessel carrying the 400-foot Polar Pioneer, one of two Shell drilling vessels expected to conduct exploratory drilling in the Alaskan Arctic this year.

The activists boarded the rig April 6. On April 11, a U.S. District Court Judge in Anchorage granted Shell a restraining order, prohibiting them from entering a safety zone around the rig.

Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh said the company is pleased with the order.

“These tactics are not peaceful protests. They jeopardize the safety of the people working on board and the protesters themselves, especially aboard a moving vessel at sea,” she said in an email to the Associated Press at the time.

The vessels travelled across the Pacific from Malaysia. While Esperanza docked in Victoria, the Shell vessel was greeted by about three dozen protesters in kayaks in Port Angeles.

The Polar Pioneer was to be off-loaded in Port Angeles to have equipment installed.

The rig will travel to Seattle in a few weeks for further staging, before it’s expected to head north and begin exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea.

Eric Ross of Shell No Action Coalition says kayakers are training for a “festival of resistance” in Seattle on May 16-18, during which a flotilla of kayaks will gather around the vessel.

Greenpeace’s goal with the occupation was to spread awareness about offshore drilling in the Arctic, which it says poses an unnecessary risk to the environment.

“We know we can’t afford to burn fossil fuels, we know there’s a 75 per cent chance of a spill happening up there and we know we’re facing huge destructive consequences of climate change and we need to stop it, otherwise we’re going down a very scary path,” Buckley Lennox said.

Further, she said, Shell isn’t adequately prepared to clean up a spill.

The activists were forced to leave the protest camp after six days due to reports of seven-metre swells and extreme weather coming their way.

Although their occupation is over, Widlund and Buckley Lennox plan to travel to Seattle for the festival of resistance.

“I really care about these issues and I want to do whatever I can to keep it going,” Buckley Lennox said.

“We have a really short window of opportunity to save our planet from the worst effects of climate change.”

asmart@timescolonist.com

— With files from The Associated Press

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