Marine watchdogs are investigating a complaint that a massive oil drilling ship switched off a collision avoidance tracking system.
Environmental lobbyists claim the Noble Bob Douglas was breaking international shipping rules by operating without Automatic Identification System.
But Texan oil giant Anadarko says it was forced to cut the monitoring system to avoid being targeted by green activists.
The ultra-deepwater drillship was travelling between Taranaki and the Canterbury Basin between Friday and Sunday after abandoning an exploratory well off Raglan which came up dry.
The Environmental Protection Agency and Maritime New Zealand both confirmed yesterday they were looking into the complaint.
Greenpeace’s chief policy adviser Nathan Argent said his organisation has independent evidence the ship broke international safety regulations three separate times.
‘‘It looked like Anadarko disappeared from our waters recently but unfortunately that was because they switched off their safety identification device,’’ he said.
‘‘This must leave [Energy Minister] Simon Bridges fuming. He’s spent months going on about how safely Anadarko will operate, but they’ve only been here a few weeks and they’ve already broken international safety regulations several times, completely contradicting what the minister told the public.’’
However, Anadarko country manager Alan Seay said his company was acting to protect its ship and crew, and had been in contact with authorities about switching off the AIS.
‘‘My understanding is that vessels are allowed to do this if they perceive some sort threat of interference with their vessel. We had several grounds to believe that we had that issue to deal with.’’
He said the protest vessel Infinity was in the Pegasus Basin with its AIS turned off. ‘‘It was shadowing our seismic vessel at the same time the Bob Douglas was transitting,’’ he said.
Activists were also understood to be training off the Kaikoura coast ‘‘in ways of interfering with vessels at sea’’, he said.
A protest flotilla of two ships also left Dunedin to meet the drill ship, one of which was also operating without AIS. By coincidence the anti-whaling Sea Shepherd vessel the Steve Irwin also was operating nearby with its AIS turned off.
New domestic laws place a 500 metre exclusion zone around oil exploration vessels.
The International Maritime Organisation’s International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea requires AIS to be fitted aboard ships of a certain size and, all passenger ships, regardless of size.
Bridges said: ‘‘There are a number of circumstances where an Automatic Identification System can be turned off. Having said that, Greenpeace is entitled to make a complaint and MNZ and the EPA are required to investigate it.’’
Green Party MP Gareth Hughes said Anadarko had said it would operate to the highest safety standards ‘‘and yet here we have evidence that they are putting other New Zealand boats at risk’’.
- The Dominion Post