Raglan anti-oil protesters circled police boat

JONATHAN CARSON
Last updated 05:00 02/12/2013

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A police boat circled behind the Oil Free Seas Flotilla as it returned to port at the weekend, but no legal action was taken against the protesters.

The four ships, which have been protesting Texas oil giant Anadarko's deep sea oil drilling west of Raglan, arrived at Princes Wharf in Auckland Sunday afternoon.

Former Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, who was on board one of the ships, the Vega, said despite the flotilla breaking new protest laws there had been no police interference.

"As we came into port there was a police vessel circling just behind us but they didn't come close and they didn't contact us," she told the Times.

"We always knew that was a possibility but it didn't happen. In fact, all the time we were out there we never heard boo from the authorities."

Parliament outlawed protests that interfere with or damage oil exploration vessels in April, leaving protesters liable for a fine of up to $100,000.

The law also made it an offence for people to get closer than 500 metres to a ship that has a "non-interference zone". Entering the zone could result in a $10,000 fine.

Those on board the Vega, skippered by Greenpeace executive director Bunny McDiarmid, are understood to have breached both parts of the controversial law. "It's a little bit surprising that they haven't thought it was worth enforcing," Ms Fitzsimons said.

"But, of course, they could still. There are still ways that they could do that."

After 17 days at sea, the flotilla was greeted by other boats with welcome home banners, and cheers from dozens of supporters at the wharf.

"There was a great sense of tradition that New Zealanders have taken to the sea to defend their country for many, many decades and it was great to be part of that tradition."

Despite the protest, Anadarko's oil drilling operation has started.

"We also managed to irritate the Anadarko ship considerably, even though they might not want to admit that," Ms Fitzsimons said.

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- Waikato Times

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