US & Canada

US Coast Guard ends Shell icebreaker bridge protest

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Media captionActivists dangled themselves from a bridge in an attempt to stop the ship

Environmental activists have been removed from a bridge in Portland, Oregon, allowing an icebreaker to join a US Arctic oil-drilling operation.

Police lowered the Greenpeace campaigners dangling on ropes from St John's Bridge into boats, while the Coast Guard cleared dozens of kayaks.

The icebreaker, chartered by Royal Dutch Shell, had been prevented from leaving port for hours.

A judge has ordered Greenpeace to pay $2,500 (£1,600) per hour of blockage.

The Fennica icebreaker was in Portland for repairs. At one point it had to retreat before the activists refused to move.

'Unique situation'

The protest began on Wednesday. Thirteen activists were hanging from the bridge and another 13 were looking out.

After a tense standoff, on Thursday evening authorities began lowering some of the campaigners around 200ft (60m) onto Coast Guard boats below the bridge.

The vessel then weaved through some remaining protesters hanging from the bridge, moving toward the Pacific Ocean.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Protesters hanging from the bridge and activists in kayaks managed to delay the icebreaker for several hours
Image copyright AP
Image caption But the vessel later was seen passing under the bridge - with some protesters still hanging on ropes
Image copyright AP
Image caption Portland residents have called the demonstration "inspirational"

Portland police spokesman Sgt Pete Simpson said safety was the priority during the operation to clear the demonstrators.

"This is, obviously, a very unique situation," he told the Associated Press news agency.

Earlier, US District Court Sharon Gleason ruled that Greenpeace was in civil contempt, ordering the fine.

The US Coast Guard warned the protesters that they were breaking the law.

The activists said they had packed enough food and water with them on the bridge "for the long haul".

The icebreaker is a part of Shell's exploration and spill-response plan off of Alaska's coast, protecting the fleet from ice.

Campaign groups have urged President Barack Obama to rescind Shell's permit to drill in the Arctic.

They say drilling could be damaging to populations of whales, polar bears and walrus in the event of a spill.

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