A US Coast Guard boat pulls in Seattle city council member Mike OBriens kayak from this mornings attempt to blockade the Polar Pioneer.
A US Coast Guard boat pulls up an orange kayak belonging to Seattle city council member Mike O'Brien. He was part of this morning's attempt to blockade the Polar Pioneer. Kelly O

The kayaktivists' attempt to block the Polar Pioneer as it left Seattle was scuttled early this morning.

Upon hearing that the rig would be leaving for Alaska before daybreak, 13 Greenpeace activists in kayaks stretched a line across the mouth of the West Duwamish Waterway. It was dressed like an oil containment boundary. By 4:17 a.m., a text alert calling for kayaktivists had gone out to Seattle's homegrown Shell No coalition, too. While reinforcements showed up, law enforcement confiscated the line.

With the line gone, all that was left of the blockade was a number of boats (between 30 and 40), a Lummi canoe, a banner reading "Shell No," and a last hope that this much could put a dent in Shell's Arctic exploration timeline. Two Foss tugs, Lindsey Foss and Garth Foss, slowly pulled the rig out of Terminal 5 as a small group of vessels danced around the bay. A couple of harbor seals poked their slick heads out of the water to watch the rig pass by.

Between 30 and 40 boats--plus a Lummi canoe--paddled out to swarm the rig at daybreak.
Between 30 and 40 boats—plus a Lummi canoe—paddled out to swarm the rig at daybreak. Kelly O

Soon, the USCG began detaining kayakers and hauling in their boats. Harbor Patrol pulled in the banner. More than 20 people were lifted out of the water and onto a law enforcement vessel, including Seattle City Council Member Mike O'Brien.

Before the USCG scooped up O'Brien, he told The Stranger over the phone that he'd be willing to face arrest if it came to that. "Why is the law protecting Shell Oil but not the planet?" he asked.

While kayaks peeled away from the rig, a Lummi canoe followed the Polar Pioneer as it trailed out of Elliott Bay. Justin Finkbonner, Lummi Nation, skippered from the stern. He shouted out over the water that even though no one wanted to see it leave, he hoped it arrived safely for the families of everyone on board. He shouted about the gray whales who feed in the Arctic and North Pacific before migrating thousands of miles down to Baja, Mexico in winter. He shouted about bowhead whales, too, and North Slope Inupiat communities' reliance on them. He shouted about the Duwamish longhouses that were burned, here, in Seattle by the U.S. government and settlers, not too long ago. "It breaks my heart to see [the rig] go," he said.

On Friday, Shell secured two more permits it needed to drill in the Chukchi Sea.

Half a mile down from the where kayakers launched their boats this morning, Luke Miller, a Shell employee from Anchorage, watched divers from Global Underwater Explorers Seattle (GUE Seattle) repair some of the underwater damage created when the Solar Pioneer, a protest barge, dropped concrete blocks on Cove 2, a popular diving park and known giant Pacific octopus hangout, several weeks ago. John Sellers, the operator of the Solar Pioneer, had contributed money to the restoration fund, but GUE Seattle reached out to Foss and Shell, too, for additional funding. Shell contributed the most, GUE Seattle president Koos du Preez, said. Now GUE Seattle has about twice as much as the $7,000 or so it needed to fix what was broken.

"Beautiful morning," Miller said when I asked him what he made of the action in Elliott Bay.

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"I'm not going to comment on that," he said when I asked him about the state's warning to Shell that longterm moorage of the rig in the waterway could violate the state constitution.

By 10 a.m., the coast guard released the 24 people it had detained on the water. They were issued notices of violation for breaching the safety zone around the Polar Pioneer, which carries a $500 fine.

Speaking of things in the $500 range: Tomorrow and Wednesday, Shell and Foss will be co-sponsoring a two-day conference in Seattle called "The Promise of the Arctic: Managing Opportunity Responsibly." Registration for both days is $595.

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