Police this afternoon have told the protest flotilla off the East Cape not to get too close to an oil survey ship or its support vessel.
Superintendent Barry Taylor said police officers visited the protest fleet and the skippers were all served notices under the Maritime Transport Act which requires the protest boats get no closer than 250 metres from the bow and stern and 200 metres from the port and starboard sides of the Ocean Explorer and Ocean Pioneer.
"The notices were served to ensure the safety of people and property are not endangered," Taylor said.
Failure to comply could incur a fine of up to $10,000 or a prison term of up to 12 months.
Taylor said the safety of individuals was a top priority.
"We also want to ensure that the lawful rights to protest and for companies to go about their lawful business are understood and respected."
A naval vessel carrying police officers is monitoring the ongoing Greenpeace protests off New Zealand's East Cape.
Activists managed to stop a survey vessel in Raukumara Basin at the weekend by swimming in front of it, and have said they are prepared to keep their protest going for weeks if necessary.
Taylor said they will only intervene if the protesters step out
"Our legal advice is that we can take action under New Zealand law, including Maritime Law, should circumstances require us to do so,"
Taylor said the police are hoping to set up a safe protest area which will allow both parties to continue their work.
Greenpeace has vowed to to continue its protest until the prospectors give up.
Spokeswoman Bunny McDiarmid said Greenpeace is strongly opposed to deep water drilling and want to be sure New Zealanders are engaged in the debate.
"This is the first deep water drilling New Zealand is engaged in and there are a whole slew of others waiting to come," McDiarmid told Close Up.
She said this is in very deep water of up to 3000 metres and is twice as deep as the accident in the Gulf of Mexico when an exploratory well blew up.
"There is no guarantee that won't happen in New Zealand.
"No New Zealander wants to see our beaches and coastline awash with oil."
Climate campaigner Steve Abel told TV ONE's Breakfast they have no plans to back down.
"It is our intention to stay there until they cease the testing or leave the area," he said.
"We're there to defend our treasured oceans and coastline. The government are siding with the oil company."
Around 60 protesters are involved in the action, with five fishing vessels.
The government believes the oil industry could provide jobs and income for New Zealand.
Abel said he supported these aims, but wants the government to focus on different sectors.
"This is a very dangerous industry... the question I would say is, is this the sort of industry we want here?
"We want to see the government developing jobs and industry around clean locally developed technologies we can control."
Abel said Greenpeace's main concern is for the potential environmental impact of an oil spill, or accident.
"It's a very real threat, the question you've got to ask is what is the magnitude of harm if something goes wrong compared to the very little benefit we get from the industry."
Acting energy minister Hekia Parata said the project is about balancing environmental responsibility and creating better jobs and higher incomes.
She said New Zealand has a long standing petroleum industry with the first well drilled in 1864 and it has brought $2 billion into the economy. Parata said the government's energy strategy encompasses a broad range of options and as well as renewable sources it's also interested in exploring what fossil fuels are available.
Prime Minister John Key has criticised the actions of the protesters, who he believes are preventing a legitimate survey.
"We have issued Petrobras a five year licence for exploratory work to see if there's oil and gas there, they have a legal right to do that," he said yesterday.
"They should be allowed to go and do that."Acting energy minister Hekia Parata said the project is about balancing environmental responsibility and creating better jobs and higher incomes.
She said New Zealand has a long standing petroleum industry with the first well drilled in 1864 and it has brought $2 billion into the economy. She said the government's energy strategy encompasses a broad range of options and as well as renewable sources it's also interested in exploring what fossil fuels are available.
Labour leader Phil Goff said people needed reassurance that the drilling activities would be safe.
"We're not against oil and gas exploration, that brings in big royalties to New Zealand and it helps our balance of payments, but we do need strong guarantees following the Gulf of Mexico, to ensure that safety and environmental considerations are fully taken into account.
"I haven't seen those guarantees," he told Breakfast this morning.
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