Editorial: Lawless protest spoils idyllic beach for all

Last updated 05:00 13/02/2013

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OPINION: It's been said plenty of times that the world changed on September 11, 2001, almost certainly forever.

Now and again, though, we are reminded of the inherent truth of that in indirect ways that we never would have imagined.

Take New Plymouth's port as an example. For years, it has sat peacefully beside Ngamotu Beach, a great family spot sheltered from the worst of the Tasman Sea by the Lee Breakwater.

While Port Taranaki has grown steadily, despite the loss of key container business, it has faced a raft of new restrictions in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Any port sending cargo to the US had to be secure. Consequently, security surrounding the port was increased significantly, marking the end of an era. A Sunday drive around the port to see what ships were in came to an abrupt end.

Some of the adjoining old houses on leased land were demolished and a new port administration building was constructed in their place.

The encroachment had begun. The outcry was muted, to say the least. Port Taranaki was owned by the Taranaki Regional Council on behalf of everyone in the region and the overwhelming sentiment was that it could be trusted to be a good neighbour. Constant reassurances that our "safe" inner-city beach was indeed safe from encroachment seemed to soothe the waters.

Those burgeoning businesses near the Lee Breakwater, many of them restaurants, entered into the spirit of things and, along with their neighbours, including the port company, rebranded the area Breakwater Bay. The food outlets continue to ply their trade in a typically idyllic Taranaki setting, beside the coastline, looking out to an undisturbed horizon.

Then, once again, everything changed. On February 24 last year, actress Lucy Lawless and and six other Greenpeace activists boarded the Shell-chartered Noble Discoverer.

They spent three days on the ship, which was due to travel to the Arctic to explore for oil for Shell.

It was not Greenpeace's first protest against activities in Port Taranaki, but with the spotlight firmly on the port, the obvious flaw in its security - that anyone could easily enter from the seas - was exposed for all to see.

While few would doubt that Lawless and her fellow protesters are sincere in their convictions - pun intended - their illegal actions have had a dramatic effect on Taranaki communities wanting to continue to have access to this iconic family beach.

Lawless and friends claimed last week's court action meant it was "a total victory" for them. It may have been for the few, but the loss many of us will feel makes it anything but a win. Because of their actions, the port has no option but to make significant changes to its security, and it has already advised Maritime New Zealand, responsible for administering the Maritime Security Act 2004, that that has happened. Just how far that goes remains to be seen. The only certainty is that we will be the losers.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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