Judge: Port may restrict beach access

Lucy Lawless talks to media after being sentenced in the New Plymouth District Court yesterday.
Lucy Lawless talks to media after being sentenced in the New Plymouth District Court yesterday.

Port Taranaki may be forced to close off Ngamotu Beach, the lee breakwater and boat ramp in an effort to beef up security because of Greenpeace protests.

The ramifications of environmental activists Greenpeace repeatedly targeting the New Plymouth port to make its political stands - four times in the past 2 years - were heard during the sentencing of the Lucy Lawless-led group who protested on February 24-27 last year.

Lawless and seven others had earlier pleaded guilty to illegally boarding a ship, the Noble Discoverer, moored at Port Taranaki.

In the New Plymouth District Court yesterday Judge Allan Roberts sentenced Lawless, charged under her married name Tapert, and six others to 120 hours community work and ordered each to repay Port Taranaki $651.44 each.

Greenpeace said it was the harshest penalty handed down to any of its activists to date.

Outside court, Lawless told the media that her group could not believe how effective their February action was when they sat it out on the top of the drill ship under the glare of the media spotlight.

Millions of people signed up to their petition to stop drilling in the pristine waters of the Arctic, she said.

Although she hoped the port would not close its access to the community, she was adamant the Greenpeace cause was on behalf of all citizens throughout the world.

Ms Lawless said the conviction would not affect her job as an actor overseas.

Asked what the community work might entail, she jokingly replied "cleaning toilets".

But despite the light tone outside court, Port Taranaki, in its victim impact statement to the court yesterday, spelt out the trade implications caused by the repeated security breaches by Greenpeace.

The port treated breaches seriously in the knowledge that

security was critical to New Zealand as a trading nation, Judge Allan Roberts told the protesters lined up in front of the dock.

At worst, the impact of the security breaches could prevent a ship from calling at the port if it was identified as a risk.

The port was now considering building more security fences in a move to extend its secure area, the judge said.

Residents now had access the beach, boat ramp and lee breakwater, all of which were enjoyed by a large section of the community, the judge said.

The possibility of restrictions on accessing these facilities would have an effect on many citizens, the judge said.

Judge Roberts rejected the request of Shell Todd Oil Services (STOS) for $648,366.15 in reparation because only one of the accused - Lawless - had the ability to pay.

It would be unfair to order only one to pay when the others could not afford to do so, he said.

If STOS was interested in pursuing the money, there were other avenues to take, the judge said.

Earlier, Greenpeace lawyer Ron Mansfield said the STOS amount was "excessive and unjustified". Police prosecutor Sergeant Lewis Sutton argued for the less well-heeled of the group to pay at least partial reparation.

It was revealed that the group, travelling in a van, used boltcutters to cut chains to a gate in a remote area at 6.35am while one of them went to the security gate at the entrance to Port Taranaki on Breakwater Rd.

He diverted the guard's attention by engaging him in conversation while the others broke in.

The others, wearing red overalls and wearing climbing harnesses and helmets, spoke to the lone security officer on watch, asking to see the captain.

When he went to convey their request, the group climbed the 53-metre drilling derrick, unfurling their protest flags.

The judge accepted the group held strong beliefs - which they were entitled to espouse - but these should not be criminal ventures.

The offending should not be treated as just a hand slap as similar actions had been in the past, he said.

"Given the loss experienced by STOS, I do not see it as a trifle at all. The interests of victims cannot be ignored."

Afterwards, in her statement read to the media on the courthouse lawn and while surrounded by her co-offenders, Lawless said the group was proud with its attempt to stop Shell's "reckless plans to drill for oil in the pristine Arctic".

"Since we occupied the Noble Discoverer, it has become evident to everyone watching, from the millions who have signed Greenpeace petitions, to the US Government, now examining Shell's plans, that it can never be safe to drill in the Arctic.

"Shell's Arctic programme has cost them billions and it's now regarded as an eye-wateringly expensive failure."

Her co-offenders were Raoni Hammer, 31, and Shayne Comino, 34, both of Lyttleton, Mike Buchanan, 29, Diamond Harbour, Viv Hadlow, 29, Auckland, Zach Penman, 22, Hamilton and Ilai Amir, 26, Auckland.

Spanish national Shai Naides is yet to be sentenced. He is in his home country and will return to court in March.

STOS general manager Rob Jager said yesterday that his company was considering the options of pursuing a civil claim.

The company's primary concern during the occupation by the protesters was the safety of all concerned, he said.

"[This was] the same value that continues to be at the heart of our business today along with operating in an environmentally sound manner.

"STOS recognises the right of individuals to express their point of view and protest in a manner that does not place the safety of people or property at risk," Mr Jager said.

The Noble Discoverer was under contract to STOS at the time of the protest action.

Port Taranaki chief executive Roy Weaver, who is on holiday, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Taranaki Daily News