Block the Boat Vancouver

Account of what happened in Vancouver, Canada, written by Vancouver activists. September 10  2014 Four years ago, after the attack on the Freedom Flotilla and the solidarity port action in Oakland, Vancouver Palestine solidarity activists attempted to block a ZIM ship at Deltaport. The action was successful in bringing attention — especially among truckers and longshore operators — to the destruction of Palestine by Israel, and to ZIM’s connection with the Israeli occupation. Although the action may have caused some delay, the ship unloaded and left. Israel’s massacre in Gaza during July and August this year refocused attention on ZIM as a Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) target. It’s one of Israel’s largest corporations and Israel itself, until 2004, retained equity in the company. Since then it has been owned by the Israel Corporation which is controlled by the Ofer Brothers Group. ZIM Integrated Shipping Services operates dozens of container and bulk ships globally. Late in the summer, an ad-hoc group of Palestine solidarity activists, responding to the massacre in Gaza and inspired by actions in Oakland, California, decided to reinvigorate the anti-ZIM campaign under the banner of Block the Boat. With very little time before the arrival of the ZIM Djibouti at Vancouver’s Deltaport (Roberts Bank), the activists set to work. In the absence of a relationship with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), Local 502, the group decided to conduct a Port Information action including sign display and distributing leaflets to workers, without blocking traffic on Deltaport’s access roads. This approach was based on the group’s assessments of available people for the action and the likely perception of it by Local 502. Although somewhat different, Oakland, Long Beach and Tacoma also had port campaigns to educate workers prior to their actions to Block the Boat. On Friday, September 5, the ZIM arrived at Deltaport on schedule. We took the opportunity to photograph five members of the group holding the signs we planned to use the following day with the ZIM Djibouti in the background. That evening, as we tracked progress on an AIS reporting web site, we were surprised to see the ship leave the dock at Deltaport after about five hours. Since the Local 502 had at most a couple of hours work on the ship before it left, we assumed that very few or none of the containers left the ship. The ZIM Djibouti surprised us again, a little later in the evening, by sailing toward Victoria rather than the next scheduled landing at Tacoma. Obviously, our planned demo on Deltaport Way would take on a different character. The intention from the beginning had been to concentrate on information delivery to workers, but the absence of the ship itself gave the day a different cast. We rallied according to plan, both individuals as well as members of various groups. By 6:45 AM, signs were brought out, leaflets were folded and our action was underway. Police and private security attendance was relaxed. Activists had formed into a long line on the shoulder of the road holding 4-foot signs. The messages were “Let Gaza Live”; “Block the Boat”; “Free Palestine”; followed by “No ZIM”, and there were Palestinian flags and Keffiyehs. Traffic was moderate and, by exploiting a pedestrian crossing light, we were able to hand leaflets to workers on their way in as well as truckers heading for deliveries and pickups. Some of us also ventured into the employee parking lot and left leaflets under windshield wipers. Judging by the honks, we were understood and appreciated — hardly surprising as the massacre had been in the news for more than 40 days and the Canadian public is not generally sympathetic with the current Israeli government or the IDF. But the ZIM Djibouti was nowhere in sight. By 9:00 am Saturday, as we were beginning to wrap up, the Djibouti was heading west to a point about 300 km away from Deltaport in the distant approaches to the Strait of Juan de Fuca which separates Vancouver Island from the North West corner of Washington State. Its destination was still advertised as “Vancouver”; ZIM’s web site was still showing an arrival of September 5 and a departure for Tacoma of September 8. We tracked the ship through Saturday and Sunday, attempting to keep our Facebook page up to date twice each day as the calculated return time kept changing. The only change in the ship’s advertised status via AIS was the addition of “Hazardous A” as a cargo note. We had no contact with the local through the weekend although we noted that three previously scheduled Zim work shifts were cancelled and no new work shifts were announced. On Monday morning we were surprised again when the AIS track showed Port Angeles P. Station as the new destination. Port Angeles has no large container facilities, but there is a power station close by — though not accessible from the sea. As scheduled, the ZIM Djibouti began, Tuesday morning, moving toward Port Angeles, which is directly south of Victoria. Abruptly, later in the day, it made a 180-degree turn just outside of the Port Angeles spit, continued to turn west and having hardly slowed down, headed back out the strait. We were mystified. Operating and moving a 349 meter ship (1,145 feet) that carries more than 1,000 containers is extremely expensive. A day lost represents millions of dollars of delayed or lost revenue for ZIM and for all of its customers as well. Images of its track have been published on Facebook (Block the Zim Djibouti – Part II) and Twitter. Hour by hour, we anticipated a change in track and a subsequent rushed reassembly of the protesters on Deltaport Way. But the ship has spent Monday, the latter half of Tuesday and all of Wednesday under a controlled drift in the open ocean. Late on Tuesday, the AIS report changed. The destination was “Vancouver” once again, but the ETA is 14:30 (2:30 pm) on Tuesday, September 16. At the time of this writing, the ship is still drifting and the meter is still running. September 10 2014

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