By Eric M. Johnson
SEATTLE (Reuters) - Seattle activists say police have dismantled a tent on Monday used as a staging area to organize local protests over Royal Dutch Shell Plc's use of the city's port as a home base for a drilling rig that could depart this week for the Arctic.
Over the last month, activists have staged demonstrations against the oil company's Arctic drilling plans, including on May 16 when hundreds of protesters in kayaks and small boats fanned out on a Seattle bay.
Seattle police dismantled but did not seize the 16-foot (5-meter) by 32-foot (10-meter) logistics tent central to organizing the launch of a planned rig-stopping flotilla, said Backbone Campaign Executive Director Bill Moyer.
He said discussions with the U.S. Coast Guard suggest the Polar Pioneer rig could begin its voyage to Alaska this week, possibly on Wednesday, though neither Shell nor shipping company Foss Maritime has commented publicly on the schedule.
Environmental groups say drilling in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska could lead to an ecological catastrophe.
"We would like Seattle to mobilize as many craft on the water as possible to be a flotilla through which this rig is not allowed to attempt to pass through," Moyer said.
Seattle Police Department spokesman Drew Fowler said there have been no arrests but "we do have some officers in the public park that serves as a boat launch in West Seattle." He said he had no further details and could not confirm that officers had taken down the tent.
Activists say crucial to their efforts is getting boats on the water before the rig can leave the terminal, when a mandatory safety zone keeping watercraft at least 100 yards away expands to 500 yards as the rig hits the broader Puget Sound, and the rig's gaining speed would pose a safety risk to kayakers.
Activists are asking citizens to sign up for protest shifts so they can be called upon to quickly mobilize when the rig prepares for departure.
The Coast Guard will enforce the safety zone in the Puget Sound, spokesman George Degener said, adding that it can be "almost impossible" for the vessels to stop if a boat were to suddenly enter its immediate path.
Shell did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did Foss Maritime.
The tent takes up two boat trailer parking spots, and activists have paid $120 for a five-day parking permit, Moyer said.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Eric Beech)