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Oakland: Ship targeted by protesters leaves port but returns a few hours later

By Natalie Neysa Alund, Harry Harris and Kristin J. Bender

Bay Area News Group

POSTED: 08/19/2014 11:25:21 AM PDT


Staff writers

OAKLAND -- A container ship that sat in the Port of Oakland for four days of political protests against the Israeli-owned company briefly left the port Tuesday afternoon, sailing past the Golden Gate Bridge before returning to a different part of the harbor.

It was not immediately clear if crews were unloading the ship in defiance of the will of protesters who had urged union workers to honor their picket line since Saturday.

About 3 p.m., the Zim Integrated Shipping Lines vessel Piraeus left the port and got underway headed for Los Angeles, according to a real time marine traffic tracking web site. But almost 20 miles into the voyage, the vessel turned back toward the port. It sat in the water for a time, then got underway again and passed the eastern shore of San Francisco before arriving back at the port about 6:30 p.m.

Port spokesman Robert Bernardo was not available for comment after the ship made the U-turn and returned to the port.

The Piraeus arrived at the Port of Oakland on Saturday. Later that afternoon, protesters responding to recent Israeli action in Gaza convened and longshoremen refused to cross the demonstration to come to work to and unload the container ship.

The protesters have compared the relationship between Israelis and the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip to the apartheid regime in South Africa 30 years ago. In 1984, Bay Area dockworkers refused to unload ships moored in San Francisco carrying South African cargo.

The Piraeus transports goods between Asia and the U.S., according to consulate spokesman David Goodstone. Zim Integrated Shipping Ltd. is 32 percent-owned by Israeli shareholders, he said.

On Tuesday, protesters showed up at 5 a.m. Tuesday at the port's Oakland International Container Terminal and again longshoremen refused to cross picket lines and did not report to work.

"We will not work under armed police escort --not with our experience with the police in this community,"
said ILWU Local 10 President Melvin MacKay said in a statement.

 In a 2003 anti-war demonstration, Oakland police fired rubber bullets at demonstrators and injured several longshoremen.

Workers have unloaded other vessels in that terminal during the protests, Bernardo said.

No other port operations have been affected, he said.

When asked why some vessels at the terminal were being off-loaded and the Piraeus was not, International Longshore and Warehouse Union communications director Craig Merrilees said,
"Longshore workers are attending different vessels at different gates where there are no demonstrators or police. The union has no issue with Zim and is not involved with any boycott of Zim."

Police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said there were about 20 protesters Tuesday and no arrests were made.

The Piraeus ship is registered in Hong Kong and Zim contracts with a Greek company that owns the ship, according to Goodstone.

"The consulate general said that the ship may eventually leave for another West Coast port if the protest continues, to drop off there,"
Goodstone said Tuesday.

Mohamed Shehk, a spokesman for Block the Boat, said his group hopes to gain momentum and make the company realize they are not welcome at the Port of Oakland or other West Coast ports.

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