Greenpeace protest won't shift Fonterra or PM

Last updated 09:30 17/09/2009

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Federated Farmers and the country's ports are calling for a tough line against Greenpeace activists who held up a cargo ship unloading its load of palm kernel, labelling them "pirates".

Yesterday's dramatic protest off the Port of Tauranga saw 14 Greenpeace protesters lash themselves to parts of the Hong Kong-registered freighter East Ambition.

They were protesting Fonterra's importation of palm kernel for use as stock feed because of its role in the destruction of rainforests, predominantly in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Greenpeace says the use of palm kernel for animal feed undermines New Zealand farmers' "clean, green" claims.

About 1.1 million tonnes of palm kernels -- almost a quarter of the world's supply -- are sold to New Zealand a year and Greenpeace campaign director Chris Harris said only 4 per cent of palm oil came from sustainable sites.

However, Prime Minister John Key said he was not going to stop imports of palm kernel, because it was only used for about 1 per cent of feed here.

Fonterra also said the vessel did not carry any of its feed, and that the kernel it imported for its dairy farms came from sustainable suppliers.

The company dismissed Greenpeace's protest as a dangerous publicity stunt that "potentially damages New Zealand's reputation as a lawful country".

Police removed the protesters once the ship docked last night and they were charged with illegally boarding a vessel. They face a maximum fine of $2000.

However, ports around the country want tough punishments dished out to prevent such disruptive protests.

Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns told Radio New Zealand the last time there was a similar protest at Tauranga one of the protesters was nearly killed and a port staff member put his life at risk rescuing them.

Mr Cairns said if they tried yesterday's protest in northern Europe "they would find themselves getting shot".

In March this year the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior II anchored in front of a coal barge in Lyttelton Harbour, protesting against the use of coal and its effect on climate change.

The six arrested face three months' jail or a fine of $2000, Timaru Port chief executive Jeremy Boyd said it was not much of a deterrent.

Federated Farmers president Don Nicolson said yesterday's protesters should be prosecuted as pirates.

He respected their right to protest legally, "but they have crossed the line by interfering with legal commerce and free navigation on the high seas".

Maritime law specialist John Knight said tougher penalties were available depending on force used, but they did not stretch to piracy, which would involve a definite act of robbery or violence.

They could be charged for breaking maritime rules by engaging in dangerous activity involving ships or maritime products, which carried a maximum penalty of 12 months' jail or a $10,000 fine.

Tauranga police area commander Inspector Mike Clement said he was pleased the situation had been resolved without harm to anyone involved.

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Fourteen protesters were arrested and charged with being unlawfully boarding a ship. Another support member was also arrested.

Mr Clement said unlawfully boarding a ship was deemed to be the most appropriate charge. The legislation was adequate to deal with yesterday's situation, however police might look at other charges, he said.

Yesterday's protest drew staff away from other duties and police could seek reparation for the cost of the operation through the court, he said.

The protesters will appear in the Tauranga District Court on Wednesday.


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