By Shelby Sebens
PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Protesters began gathering in a riverside park in Portland Tuesday evening, planning to drop kayaks in the water to protest Wednesday's scheduled launch of a ship to be used by Royal Dutch Shell for Arctic oil exploration.
Following the lead of protesters in Seattle who tried to block ships headed for Shell's planned oil exploration in the Chukchi Sea, the Portland "kayaktivists" said they would conduct a vigil overnight on the Willamette River, which runs through downtown Portland.
"Our goal is to basically demonstrate as much community resistance to Shell’s plans to drill for oil and secure new oil reserves in the Arctic,” said Meredith Cocks, organizer with environmental activist group Portland Rising Tide.
Lieutenant Steve Alexander of the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office said that a small group of protesters gathered at Cathedral Park in Portland on Tuesday afternoon.
Alexander said that as of Tuesday evening the protests were peaceful and the sheriff's department and the U.S. Coast Guard would monitor the river to ensure boaters have proper equipment and are safe.
The activists planned to take to the river early Wednesday morning to block passage by the Fennica, an icebreaker ship, on its way out of the area, though those plans were subject to change depending on the ship's schedule, Cocks said.
The group opposes Arctic drilling, which environmentalists say will put pristine wilderness at risk and accelerate global warming through continued reliance on burning fossil fuels.
"We're here fighting for humanity against the most wealthy and powerful industry in human history, but we're not afraid, because everything we love and value in life is on the line,” said Maya Jarrad, community coordinator for the environmental group 350PDX.
Hundreds of activists in kayaks and small boats conducted a similar protest on a Seattle bay in May, demonstrating against plans by Shell to resume Arctic oil exploration while two of its drilling rigs were in the city's port.
In Portland, about 150 kayakers in boats protested the Fennica's presence over the weekend.
In May, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management gave conditional approval to Shell's resumption of fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic, which was suspended after a mishap-filled 2012 season.
"Shell acknowledges the right of any individual or organization to express their point of view; however we won’t condone illegal or unsafe tactics that put people’s safety at risk,” company spokesman Ray Fisher said.
(Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Eric Walsh)