Some staff members of Milford Sound tourist operator Red Boat Cruises have been accused by eye-witnesses of taking greenstone from Milford Sound's Anita Bay.
However, Red Boat Cruises general manager John Robson said he had no knowledge of claims that some of its staff took greenstone from the bay late on Tuesday afternoon.
He said yesterday he found the accusations hard to believe, would be mortified if they were true, and would be looking into it.
All greenstone is under ownership of Ngai Tahu and cannot be taken from the land without Ngai Tahu permission.
Grant Webster, chief operating officer of Tourism Holdings Ltd, which owns Red Boat Cruises, said the alleged activity didn't fit in with the way it operated and he was flabbergasted by the accusations.
"The key thing is it's clearly not something that is condoned in any way, shape or form or fits into the way we operate," he said.
The company, which had a good relationship with the Department of Conservation and Ngai Tahu, would be investigating the claims, Mr Webster said.
Mr Robson said Red Boat Cruises went to the Anita Bay area once a year for a staff social gathering, which they did late on Tuesday afternoon. Some staff had stayed on the big boat to swim off it while about 15 were ferried to shore in several trips in a smaller boat, with the attraction being a stone whalers cottage, he said.
Eye-witnesses have told The Southland Times when the Red Boat Cruises staff got to shore, a number had begun gathering greenstone and put pieces in their pockets, and in a couple of instances, bags. The staffers were picked up by the small boat and taken back to the big boat about an hour later, on nightfall.
Mr Robson said any suggestion they had gone to Anita Bay to collect greenstone was totally untrue. "If anyone got greenstone I would be mortified and I will be checking with my staff." Runanga o Ngai Tahu Kaiwhakahaere (Chairman) Mark Solomon said it condemned the illegal taking of pounamu (greenstone). "We had no prior knowledge of the incident in question before being contacted by the media, but if these types of activities have been going on we would be very concerned and will consider what action to take after further investigation," he said. "It is encouraging to see there is a growing awareness by the public that Ngai Tahu owns pounamu and that laws exist to protect those ownership rights." Department of Conservation Te Anau area manager Reg Kemper said Anita Bay, which was part of Fiordland National Park, was DOC's responsibility but the greenstone in the park was owned by Ngai Tahu as part of the claims settlement act.
"It's not a mineral owned by the general public, it's owned by Ngai Tahu." Taking greenstone without Ngai Tahu permission would be like taking someone's car without the owner's permission, he said.
The type of greenstone found at Anita Bay is bowenite, which is also under ownership of Ngai Tahu, a Ngai Tahu spokesman said.
Bowenite is described as a rare type of pounamu on the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand website, Te Ara. The natural pebbles (known to Maori as tangiwai) were valued by Maori for adornment, the site says.
In 2000, Museum of New Zealand staffer Graham Wilson described bowenite as originating in Anita Bay in Milford and was used for jewellery before Maori discovered pounamu or greenstone.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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