Jason Redmond / Reuters

Seattle protesters plan kayak blockade to stop Shell rig departure

Six protesters detained a day earlier as oil company prepared to resume controversial Arctic oil drilling

Seattle activists opposed to Arctic drilling have vowed to launch a kayak blockade to prevent the departure of Shell’s drilling rig, and said they have hundreds of protesters standing to hit the water as soon as the Polar Pioneer departs.

“Our effort is to create as large a flotilla as we can to make it impossible for them to get permission to leave,” Bill Moyer, executive director of the Backbone Campaign, an environmental justice organization, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

Although Shell has not announced a departure date, activists with ShellNo said on its website that the rig could leave for Alaskan waters as early as Wednesday. There it will drill exploratory wells approved by the U.S. government last month.

”Work continues as planned in preparation for the Polar Pioneer's departure to Alaska,” Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said in an email. “The rig and its crew will depart Puget Sound when the ongoing load-out is complete.”

The U.S. Coast Guard has said it will enforce a mandatory safety zone to keep watercraft at least 100 yards from the rig, which will be expanded to 500 yards after it departs to the Puget Sound.

Activists oppose drilling in the Arctic, where as much as one-third of undiscovered oil reserves may exist. They say drilling would exacerbate climate change.

“We can, in Seattle, help make a pivot away from not just Arctic drilling, but further endangerment of the planet through the use of fossil fuels,” Moyer said.

Over 300 Seattle protesters have been trained in kayak safety and skills in the lead up to the blockade, Moyer said. When the rig departs, hundreds of people on a text message loop will be alerted and will head out on the water in an attempt to block the Polar Pioneer, he added.

On Tuesday, activists attempted to stop workers from preparing the rig for its departure by blocking entrances to Terminal 5 in the Port of Seattle, where it is docked.

“We mobilized people who were willing to get arrested,” Afrin Sopariwala, one of the protest organizers, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday. “We do know that we disrupted them for some time.”

Six women were detained by Seattle police on Tuesday after attempting to block the workers from entering the terminal, authorities said. The six, members of an activist group known as the Seattle Raging Grannies, the local chapter of an international nonviolent activist network, were questioned and released by police after locking in to railroad tracks near the Port of Seattle, police spokesman Patrick Michaud said.

About two dozen other protesters had left their positions blocking another terminal entrance when police officers arrived.

Shell’s drilling rig in Seattle sparked controversy when it arrived last month, and hundreds of protesters went out on the water days later on May 16 in kayaks and small boats to show their opposition to the planned drilling.

Environmental groups say drilling in the Arctic could lead to a catastrophic spill that would be difficult to control in the unpredictable weather conditions. Shell has not drilled in the Arctic since a mishap-filled 2012 season, when it was forced to evacuate its Kulluk drill rig, which eventually ran aground.

With wire services

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