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US Coast Guard Escorts Fennica out on Columbia River

August 3, 2015

The Royal Dutch Shell icebreaker, Fennica, has left Portland after undergoing repairs at a local dry dock, but it wasn't an easy task.

Officials spent the afternoon removing environmental activists with Greenpeace USA who were hanging from Portland's St. Johns Bridge. Greenpeace and other activist groups oppose Shell's ongoing drilling efforts for oil in the Arctic.

Police and rescue officials spoke at a press conference after the protesters were removed. 

"It really was something remarkable to bring all these resources together," said Portland Police Sgt. Pete Simpson. "For all the agencies involved today, it was a unique and complex event."

Local firefighters used their own rope system to reach protesters and give them the option to rappel down by themselves or with assistance to the boats below.

"It's a complex operation because you're 205 feet off the ground," said Lt. Rich Tyler with Portland Fire and Rescue.

Simpson said a number of people were still detained after the day's events, but he didn't have any numbers how many, or if any would be charged.

The Coast Guard will escort the Fennica along the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean before it departs for the Arctic. Petty Officer First Class George Degener said there will be a 500-yard safety zone in front of the ship and 100 yards to the side and behind it as it moves.

The Portland Police Bureau, the Oregon Department of Corrections, Oregon State Police, Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, Portland Fire and Rescue, railroad police and the U.S. Coast Guard were all involved in clearing protesters on top of the St. Johns Bridge, dangling from the bridge and in the water below in kayaks.

"They were peaceful and cooperative as we interacted with them," said Tyler.

The Fennica arrived at Vigor Industrial's dry dock in Portland last week after being damaged earlier this month in the Aleutian Islands by an underwater obstruction.

As OPB reported, the ship attempted to leave Portland early Thursday morning, but turned around after a showdown with protestors. The ship was on the move again at approximately 5:30 p.m., but was temporarily held up by more protesters that paddled their way to the middle of the Willamette River. It finally passed the St. Johns Bridge just before 6 p.m.

In a statement, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales said it was a "hard day" for him and others who oppose drilling in the Arctic, but he went on to say that it was also a great day with commitments to safety, free speech and enforcing the law.

"Now it’s time to move from protest to action: to changing the laws," he said. "After all, that’s the point of the protest."

Earlier in the day, a federal judge in Alaska ordered the organization to pay $2,500 for every hour that protesters continued to dangle from the bridge, finding Greenpeace in civil contempt.

The St. Johns Bridge remained closed until just after 8:30 p.m. as Portland Fire and Rescue removed equipment.

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Private drone owner Adam Simmons captured the Royal Dutch Shell's icebreaker, Fennica, just before it moved under the St. Johns Bridge Thursday.