An attempt by anti-Israeli protesters trying to block a Zim Line ship from discharging and loading cargo in the Port of Oakland has turned into a high stakes game of hide and seek.
Tuesday afternoon, after two days of trying to discharge cargo at the Oakland International Container Terminal, the Zim Piraeus
sailed out into San Francisco Bay, sailed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge into the Pacific Ocean, then abruptly turned around and returned to a different berth at the Ports America Outer Harbor Terminal in the Port of Oakland where the San Francisco Chronicle
and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union said the ship was being worked last night.
Wednesday morning, the ship sailed once away from its berth in the Port of Oakland to an anchorage in the South San Francisco Bay.
Spokesmen for both ZIM and the ILWU said the Zim Piraeus
had been successfully worked overnight.
It was the latest chapter in an unfolding attempt by demonstrators protesting Israeli military action in Gaza.
A varied collection of groups organizing themselves under the motto "Block the Boat" have been targeting Zim for over a month.
They originally planned a demonstration for Aug. 2, then postponed it until the morning of Saturday, Aug. 16. With demonstrations planned at the port over the weekend, the Zim Piraeus
reduced its speed and circled just west of Monterey Bay, then steamed up the coast to arrive at Oakland on Sunday night.
With picket lines set up around the terminal, longshoremen did not work the ship Sunday night, Monday or for most of Tuesday.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union said in a press release Tusday night that "in the past several days, the vessel has not been able to discharge its cargo due to the volatility associated with a large community demonstration. Volatility on the first day was caused by a high number of demonstrators, coupled with a large police presence at the scene. On the second day, the demonstrators’ numbers had dwindled, but the police numbered more than 100 and posed a threat of their own. Even at the request of the union, the police refused to disperse."
Melvin MacKay, president of ILWU Local 10 stated, “We will not work under armed police escort — not with our experience with the police in this community.”
The union said it has taken no position on Israel's military actions in Gaza, "but must protect the safety of its members, and will not put them between armed police and political demonstrators, where the numbers clearly constitute a volatile situation. In 2003, several longshoremen were injured after being shot by police’s rubber bullets in similar circumstances."
Demonstrators who had begun to disperse after the ZIM ship sailed away from its berth and then beneath the Golden Gate Bridge scrambled to return to the port Tuesday evening and set up new picket lines.
Some followed the ship's movements on real-time maritime mapping services such as www.marinetraffic.com
When the ship returned to the port on Tuesday night to a different berth, the ILWU said, "Longshore workers were able to safely enter the gate of an Oakland terminal on Tuesday night and work the Zim Piraeus
. Unlike previous shifts over the last several days, the number of demonstrators and police at the terminal’s gate was small, and longshore workers determined that the atmosphere did not pose a threat to their safety."
Edward DeNike, president of SSA Containers, which operates OICT, said the company is trying to
determine the best course of action going forward, as the ZIM service
has regular calls in Oakland. He said similar problems have not occurred
in other ports.
Shlomi Bidani, a spokesman for
ZIM, said the carrier "is doing its best to maintain its high level of service at
all times and especially at the current political environment. We are
working with local authorities at the places we operate to secure smooth
operation to our vessels."
Meanwhile, it appears other ZIM ships are being targeted by protesters.
A group called Palestine Solidarity Committee-Seattle said it is planning a rally and blockade of the Zim Chicago
in the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, with an objective of preventing the unloading of cargo on Thursday, Aug. 21, and Friday, Aug. 22. It said the Zim Chicago
was expected to enter the Port of Tacoma Wednesday, Aug. 20.
The ship currently appeared to be tied up at Deltaport in Vancouver.
Peter Friedmann, executive director of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition, said that shippers in the in Oakland area say "this is long past the 'ILWU afraid to cross picket lines' phase, and has morphed into a pure pay dispute. ILWU is mad that the employer didn’t want to pay them a full shift wages for just two-thirds of a shift, and that is what this is about now."
Craig Merrilees, an ILWU spokesman, said Friedmann was "misinformed and appears to be holding some sort of grudge."
He said shippers across the country are very concerned about the protests.
Meanwhile, Teamsters Joint Council 7 condemned current efforts to block commerce at the Port of Oakland.
"The Teamsters Union, which represents logistics industry workers at Oakland’s seaport, has suffered job losses over the last two years, as the port has been repeatedly paralyzed by successive protests," the Teamsters said in a press release.
The group added that "in 2012, Target Corporation shifted their container traffic from a distribution center in Oakland, resulting in the loss of 100 jobs.
Rome Aloise, Vice President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and President of Teamsters Joint Council 7, said: "The issue for us is not the Israel/Palestinian conflict, but the impact of these protests on local jobs. We call on the members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union to immediately unload the ship. The Port of Oakland is open for business. Our members haul containers from the Port of Oakland by truck and rail, and anything that hurts commerce, hurts our members and damages the economy of the Bay Area."
Doug Bloch, political director of Joint Council 7, noted that the Port of Oakland is investing heavily to redevelop the former Oakland Army base into a massive cross-dock and logistics center to compete with facilities in the Central Valley. Instead of cargo being trucked out of the port and back into the Bay area, logistics could be done close to the port in Oakland, providing local jobs and reducing traffic.
"As we speak, developers are going out and marketing the Port of Oakland to retailers, shippers, and potential cusotmers to the port.
How do you expect to attract commerce to the port when there is no guarantee the terminals are not going to be shut down over a political issue that really has nothing to do with port traffic?" he said.