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Oil drilling stand-off on the high seas

Published: 10:55AM Tuesday November 19, 2013 Source: ONE News

A stand-off continues at sea tonight as protesters attempt to block an American oil giant drilling for oil off the New Zealand coast.

A Greenpeace boat, the SV Vega, is refusing to move from the drill site, situated 204 kilometres off the coast of Raglan.

Protesters are being warned against breaking new laws by getting too close to the Texan oil company Anadarko's vessels.

The Vega is locked in a stalemate with two ships from Anadarko after massive drill vessel the Noble Bob Douglas closed in.

It is preparing to drill one of New Zealand's deepest ever exploratory wells into the Taranaki Basin.

"We're about to commence our operations. [When] the operations commence there'll be a non-interference zone placed around our vessel," the captain of the Noble Bob Douglas told the Vega in a radio communication.

"If any of your craft come within 500 metres of our vessel, you'll be committing an offence against the Crown Minerals Amendment Act 2013. I will further advise you when our operations are about to begin and give any vessels a further 10 minutes to exit the non interference zone before we commence our operation."

Executive director of Greenpeace, Bunny McDiarmid, on board the SV Vega, responded that the Vega will not be moving.

"We are here in defence of our oceans, future generations, our climate and our coastline. We would really ask that you do not commence your operations and instead you take your ship and you head off shore," she told the Noble Bob Douglas captain.

"We are here on behalf of tens of thousands of New Zealanders who don't want to see this happening on their coastline. This is not personal. This is about your intention to do exploratory drilling in deep, deep water off our coastline," Ms McDiarmid said.

Law breached?

But Greenpeace may have already breached the new law which says protest vessels may not get closer than 500 metres to the Anadarko ships. 

"We're about 200 metres off the starboard of the Bob Douglas," Ms McDiarmid said.

The environmentalists claim the drill vessels were moving in on them.

Anadarko's Corporate Affairs Manager, Alan Seay, says the company is complying with the law.

"We've complied with every regulation there is in the lead up to this programme and we're adhering to the letter of the law. I guess we'd ask that the protesters do the same," he said.

Mr Bridges said the drill vessel has been able to get onto the site where they want to drill, "so it's a pleasing result."

But the police have been informed.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei says the Minister will favour the petroleum company over the protesters.

"I'm sure that Simon will enforce the law against New Zealand citizens in favour of a foreign company. That was always his intention. That is why the law was passed," she said.

'We'll be ready to start drilling'

However, the efforts of the six-boat flotilla may not be enough to stop the American work from getting underway.

"The vessel's in position now and over the next few days we'll be getting ready to start drilling," Alan Seay said.

"We respect their right to protest but we also ask that in their turn they respect our right to go about our business."

It is a case of "so far so good" for Anadarko.

And the Government is happy too.

"I absolutely support their democratic right to protest," said Energy Minister Simon Bridges.

"I think it's very pleasing that in this situation they've been able to exercise their rights and the drill vessel's also been able to exercise its rights. And that's all been done peacefully and safely so far."

'Very real safety issues'

Greenpeace says it simply wants to hand over a flag to the Noble Bob Douglas, made by a child from Auckland's Muriwai Beach.

"Well they obviously will need to get within fairly close proximity to do that and that's a safety issue," said Mr Seay.

He said there are "very real safety issues" because the drill ship has very powerful thrusters which would present a danger to any small vessel that gets too close.

"So there's a safety zone in there for very good reasons."

Greenpeace also wants to hear the company's clean-up plan for a major oil spill. 

At this stage none of the boats involved have any plan to move.