Greenpeace Protest Gets Friendly : Exxon spill: All ends well after demonstrators avoid arrest, make deal for media coverage.


It began as a confrontational protest marking the second anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, but ended as a cordial lesson in the art of public relations.

About 9:30 a.m. Saturday, four Greenpeace activists chained themselves to an Exxon supertanker anchored in the Los Angeles Harbor, vowing to block its return to Alaska for a refill of crude oil.

The Port Police came, as did the U. S. Coast Guard, warning the protesters that they were trespassing and faced arrest. The protesters--two of whom were dangling from a rope hooked to the hull about 20 feet above the water--pledged to stay all night.


But shortly before 1 p.m. the media arrived, about a half dozen strong, ferried across the harbor in a Greenpeace motor boat. Nothing would be the same.

The police, who were keeping the reporters at bay, told the protesters they were willing to let them go without making any arrests. Officers simply wanted to know when they might be thinking of unhooking themselves from the massive belly of the Exxon New Orleans.

The protesters, communicating with each other through two-way radios, agreed to end their vigil, but only if the media could first come by to film the demonstration. The police said OK, but only photos. The press conference would have to wait until they got to shore.

And so ended the protest marking the 1989 spill of about 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound, all parties ever mindful of the importance of good publicity in these environmentally sensitive times.

“We’re not exactly adversaries with these people,” said Port Police Chief Noel K. Cunningham, who helped negotiate the no-arrest agreement. “We’re lovers of this water and environment as much as they are.”

An Exxon spokesman said that he regretted the incident and hoped protesters would find less dangerous ways to get their message across.

But having agreed just 10 days ago to pay $900 million in damages and a $100-million criminal fine for causing the nation’s worst oil spill, the company may have been eager to end the incident genially.

“The environmental movement is growing and these oil companies are starting to become very hip to that,” said Sherri Kimbell, a Greenpeace activist who served as spokeswoman for the event. “But I don’t want the public to be misled. What they’re doing is still very destructive.”

Back on shore, on a dock at the base of the Maritime Museum, the four protesters munched on sandwiches and sipped bottled water.

The central attractions were Neil Hyytinen, 26, of San Diego, and Melanie Duchin, 29, of Oakland, both of whom had hooked themselves to the hull and dangled from mountain climbing harnesses. Between them, they had strung up a banner reading, “Energy Conservation, Not Oil Devastation.”

“I’m glad I’m off the tanker, but the problem still exists,” said Duchin. “Just because I’m down doesn’t mean that tanker’s not going to go back up there.”

Less in the spotlight were Will Rostov, 24, and James Kron, 25, both of San Francisco. The two men--dressed in tennis shoes, long underwear, knee pads and life vests--had chained themselves over the tanker’s huge rudder, face into the metal and arms lifted high over their heads.

“I was just trying to concentrate on being comfortable,” Kron said. “But I also thought a lot about the issue . . . about the need to be pushing for cleaner technology and looking down the road for long-term solutions.”

As the officers began pulling their boats away to return to their regular duties, Hyytinen turned to them and said, “Thanks, guys.”

A crew-cut Coast Guard officer who helped him onto the dock replied, “No problem.”