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Greenpeace Protesters Could Each Face $5,000 Fines for Blocking Shell Ship

Five Greenpeace protesters who tried to stop a Shell oil ship from reaching Alaska last month could be fined $5,000 apiece for interfering with safe operations, the Coast Guard told NBC News on Wednesday.

None of the protesters was identified. They have 30 days to either pay the fines or contest the civil citations before a Coast Guard hearing officer.

The enforcement action comes after 13 people lowered themselves on ropes from the St. Johns Bridge over the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon, on July 29 and 30 to block the icebreaker MSV Fennica from passing on its way to the Alaska coast.

Related: Greenpeace Protesters Blocking Oil Ship Rappel Down From Portland Bridge

"Our first priority is always safety," Petty Officer First Class George Degener said Wednesday night. "That includes the individuals on the water.

"In this case, we had to balance our priority of safety with our responsibility for safe movement of commerce," Degener said.

Image: Shell bridge blockade in Portland, Oregon
Kayakers gather as activists hang from the St. Johns Bridge in an effort to stop the Shell icebreaker Fennica from leaving Portland, Oregon, on July 30. Don Ryan / AP

A spokeswoman for Greenpeace USA told NBC News she couldn't comment because the organization hadn't been notified of the citations.

The Fennica detoured to Oregon for repairs early last month after it hit a rock, damaging its hull. It arrived at Shell's Arctic Ocean drilling site in the Chukchi Sea on Tuesday, a month late, the company said in a statement.

The delay severely hampered Shell's drilling program, which is allowed to continue only through late September under a federal order issued last month. The Fennica was carrying a key piece of safety equipment called a capping stack, and the U.S. Interior Department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement had barred Shell from drilling into oil-bearing zones until the equipment was in place.

"If and when the Fennica is capable of being deployed in the Chukchi Sea and Shell is able to satisfy the capping stack requirement, the company may submit an application ... and request to have this restriction reconsidered," the federal agency said.