Tracking the ZIM Shanghai

by Jane Jewell
September 19th – 27th, 2014

This is my own account of the days leading up to Saturday, September 27th, 2014, when activists at the port of Oakland pulled off one of the most successful and remarkable BDS actions against Apartheid Israel to date. As I was unable to attend the events on Saturday, the part I played was very small; just tracking the ship for the eight days it took coming up the coast from the Panama Canal to Oakland, and tweeting the information.

There are numerous excellent first hand accounts of the actual events at the dock, of which one is posted on this website.

Here is my story:

I started tracking the Israeli ship, the ZIM Shanghai, on Friday, Sept 19th. It had just passed through the Panama Canal, and was making its way north west up the coast. I followed its progress past the Central American countries over the next couple of days, and then to Mexico. Even this early on, it seemed to be ahead of schedule. Still, there was Tropical Storm Polo to contend with later, so the captain was wise to get ahead while he could.

By Tuesday, however, the ZIM Shanghai, still continuing up the coast, was still way ahead of schedule. At this rate, it would definitely arrive early, on Friday.

My sources, however, still confirmed that the ship intended to arrive in the early hours of Saturday morning.

I continued to track, and check everything.

The ship was going steadily at 16.8 knots. We all know that ships can go faster in open water than they can when approaching a port. However, why did it suddenly increase to 20.4 knots on Wednesday? There was no need, it was ahead of schedule. My imagination got creative. Had there been a sudden surge in tide? Did the captain suddenly decide to put his foot on the gas to beat the storm? Or was something else going on?

All through Wednesday and Thursday, the ZIM Shanghai continued up the coast ahead of schedule.

Then late Thursday night, it happened.

One of our sources said that the ZIM Shanghai would now be coming in to port at 8pm on Friday, not Sat 3.30am, and leaving at 6am Saturday morning. Protesters would arrive at the port just in time to see the ship sail away, fully unloaded. We would have been outwitted, our whole action ruined.

The Stop ZIM Action Committee then made rapid plans to change the protest from Sat morning to Friday evening. The conference call went way into the wee hours. The Committee had wisely told potential demonstrators to always check social media before heading out to any protest, in case the time and date changed. This request to be flexible proved invaluable.

Plans were now in place to go to the port of Oakland to stop the ZIM Shanghai unloading on Friday afternoon. Announcements were made on social media, which of course our opposition could read as well. ‘Damn it!’ they no doubt thought; ‘they have spotted our trick of sneaking in early to catch them unawares’. Now there was no point in coming in on Friday, (and inconveniencing the pilots any more than they already had) so they changed their plans back to Saturday morning.

And so did the Stop ZIM Action Committee.

So the ZIM Shanghai, having used up extra fuel to arrive early, now had to idle off the coast for several hours, just south of the SF Bay entrance, killing time (and wasting money) before going in to Oakland at 3am after all. Whether or not the shipping company had to pay the pilots twice, for the Friday 8pm shift as well as the Saturday morning one, having booked both times in rapid succession, I have no idea; but it would be interesting to know!

Full accounts of the two actions taken at the port of Oakland on Sat Sept 27th can be read elsewhere. However, they can be summarized as follows:

Both actions were totally successfully in preventing the ZIM Shanghai from unloading any cargo whatsoever. The members of ILWU local ten refused to cross the picket line. Only one person agreed to work the ZIM ship, on the morning shift. Not a single other person signed up to work.

The ZIM Shanghai, still fully loaded, now had to go all the way back down the coast, (having just come up from there!) to unload at Los Angeles instead. This put them almost five days behind schedule. The ship was supposed to have left the San Francisco Bay on Saturday, Sept 27th, but didn’t go past the entrance again until Thursday afternoon. The expected day of arrival in Vostochnny was changed from Oct 10th to Oct 14th, inconveniencing the East Asian ports in Russia, China, and South Korea. The shipping company had to pay for the extra fuel to take the cargo all the way down to Los Angeles, having passed by there only a few days before. The cargo unloaded at Los Angeles would have to have been transported back up to Oakland by road, at great expense to ZIM. Or maybe it was loaded onto another ship, to be brought back to Oakland. Either way, at considerable additional cost to ZIM.

The incredible success at the Port of Oakland on Sept 27th, expelling the ZIM Shanghai from the port after only two shifts, could never have been achieved without the admirable cooperation of the local longshore workers.

The Stop ZIM Action Committee applauds and thanks the ILWU longshore workers of local 10 for their tremendous solidarity with the Palestinian people, in keeping with their noble traditions of standing against injustice, and supporting the oppressed people of this world.

Sending the workers hugs, love, and cookies.

October 9, 2014