Protesters plan to enter Bath shipyard during christening

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BATH — With an estimated 3,000 people expected to gather at Bath Iron Works on Saturday to watch the christening of the 35th Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer built by the shipyard, peace protesters plan to use the event to condemn military spending and send a message to Maine’s political leaders.

Members of Midcoast Peace Works, CodePink Maine and other organizations will hold a rally near the shipyard, then send a “peace delegation” to attempt to enter the yard and deliver a letter. Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Angus King, Rep. Chellie Pingree and Rep. Bruce Poliquin, are expected to attend the ceremony, according to BIW spokesman Matt Wickenheiser.

Gen. Robert B. Neller, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley and Vice Adm. Robin Braun, chief of the Navy Reserve and commander of the Navy Reserve Force, are also scheduled to speak Saturday.

The DDG 115 destroyer is named for Sgt. Rafael Peralta, a rifleman in the U.S. Marine Corps who was killed in action on Nov. 15, 2004, in Fallujah, Iraq.

Beginning at 10 a.m., protesters will rally at the corner of Washington and Hinckley streets, according to a release from Bruce Gagnon of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. At the end of the event, they will send “a delegation” to attempt to enter the shipyard to deliver “An Open Letter to Maine Elected Officials.”

In the letter, protesters argue that “very expensive warships are outfitted with offensive cruise missiles and so-called ‘missile defense’ interceptors that in fact are key elements in Pentagon first-strike attack planning. The Aegis warship program is not about defending our nation, but in fact these ships are being used to provocatively encircle the coasts of China and Russia.”

The letter states that while elected officials will likely speak Saturday about the jobs created by building “warships” at BIW, “what they won’t say is that the Navy shipbuilding budget is unsustainable and that very soon the nation will hit the economic wall as aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and destroyers are all over budget.”

Peace vigils and anti-war demonstrators outside the shipyard during christenings are the norm, but it’s rare for protests to occur inside the yard. In February 1997, excommunicated Catholic priest Philip Berrigan and five other protesters were arrested after they entered the yard and poured blood on the USS Sullivans.

The christening is open to the public, but in order to attend the event, civilians must pass through a security check at a shipyard gate. Bath Police Lt. Robert Savary said Tuesday that protesters wouldn’t be allowed through if they are noticed. If they do get into the yard, police will issue a lawful order to leave, and if they don’t, the protesters could be charged with trespassing.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had any major issues,” he said.

The Arleigh Burke-class DDG 115, the future USS Rafael Peralta, sits between two of the three Zumwalt-class stealth destroyers under construction at Bath Iron Works. The DDG 115 will be christened Saturday, Oct. 31.