A Shell Oil icebreaker vessel that was the target of environmental protesters left Portland, Oregon, on Thursday bound for an Arctic drill operation after a tense standoff ended with kayakers and activists who had dangled from a bridge to block its path.
The Fennica left dry dock and made its way down the Willamette River toward the Pacific Ocean about 6 p.m., according to The Oregonian, soon after authorities forced the demonstrators from the river and the St. Johns Bridge.
Several protesters in kayaks moved toward the center of the river as the ship began its trip, but authorities in boats and personal watercraft cleared a narrow pathway for the Fennica.
Authorities also jumped into the water to physically remove some protesters who left their kayaks.
"It was tough to see the boat go through there, but every second counts," protester Razz Gormley told The Oregonian on Thursday evening. "I consider this a victory."
Gormley, 42, of Boulder, Colorado, spent 40 hours dangling about 100 feet below the bridge's roadway and 100 feet above the Willamette River.
Sgt. Pete Simpson, a Portland police spokesman, said "a number of people" were detained and it was still being determined whether any would face charges. At least two activists were arrested, Multnomah County Sheriff's Office spokesman Steve Alexander said. Earlier, two activists were issued police citations, Greenpeace said.
Simpson earlier said safety was the main priority as authorities forced protesters from the area.
"This is, obviously, a very unique situation," he said.
The Fennica arrived in Portland for repairs last week. It attempted to leave earlier Thursday but turned around when activists dangling from the bridge refused to let it pass.
Earlier in the day, a federal judge in Alaska, had ordered the U.S. arm of international environmentalist organization Greenpeace, the main organizer of the blockade, to pay a $2,500 for every hour that protestors continued to block the vessel.
U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason ruled Thursday in Anchorage that Greenpeace is in civil contempt. Gleason in May granted Shell's request that activists protesting Shell's Arctic drilling plans be ordered to stay away from Shell vessels and beyond buffer zones.
The icebreaker Fennica arrived in Portland for repairs last week. The vessel was damaged earlier this month in the Aleutian Islands when it struck an underwater obstruction, tearing a gash in its hull.
It had started its journey to the Arctic early Thursday before stalling in the face of 13 activists linked by ropes and dangling from St. Johns Bridge. It then turned around and inched its way back to Vigor Industrial's dry dock, delighting those gathered on shore in the city known for environmentalism.
"I think it's inspirational," Portland resident Lisa Szot told The Oregonian about Thursday's demonstration. "It's a really beautiful protest."
The U.S. Coast Guard warned the danglers they were breaking the law, but it did not take action. Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener said the agency did not tell those aboard the icebreaker to turn around.
"I don't know what led the master and the pilot on board to come to that decision," he said.
The icebreaker is a key part of Shell's exploration and spill-response plan off Alaska's northwest coast. It protects Shell's fleet from ice and carries equipment that can stop gushing oil.
Environmentalists hope to delay the ship long enough for winter weather to prevent Shell from drilling until 2016. By that time, they hope President Barack Obama’s administration has a change of heart on the issue.
Al Jazeera and wire services