The question of whether the skippers of the boats in the Oil-Free Seas flotilla will flout the Government's new sea protest laws in its coming encounters with the giant Anardarko drilling ship the Nobel Bob Douglas remained unanswered today as the boats cast off from Princes Wharf in Auckland.
"I just don't know," said the skipper of the Friendship, Tim Foreman. "It depends on how things pan out."
Foreman and his crew aren't expecting a pleasant welcome, however. "They aren't going to be pleased to see us. I would expect the navy and the police to be out there, too. This is like a test case for them," he said.
The seven boats in the Oil-Free Seas flotilla have cast off from Auckland, Wellington, Kaikoura, Bay of Islands and Bluff over the past few days, all bound for the exploratory drill site 110 nautical miles west of Raglan, and over 1500 metres below the surface.
They expect to be following around the Nobel Bob Douglas for up to a month.
Greenpeace climate campaigner Steve Abel likened the clash to David Vs Goliath. "We all know who won that," he said.
"This is an inspiring example of courageous kiwis doing their bit to stand up against deep-sea oil exploration around New Zealand and the dangers risky fossil fuel extraction poses to our oceans, coastlines and way of life. New Zealanders do not want a fossil fuel future. A clean economy is the way forward," said Abel.
Earlier this year, the Government announced a new law to ban aspects of protesting at sea. Now known as the 'Anadarko Amendment', it states 'that it is illegal to interfere with any structure or ship that is in an offshore area that is to be used in mining activities, with an exclusion zone of 500 meters.'
"New Zealanders have a right to have their say and we will not let a ban on protest at sea stop us. Protest is a democratic right and we will be upholding that right," said Abel.
Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse was on hand to farewell the protestors. "Thank you for protecting our right to protest," she said. "Be safe, protest loudly and keep our beautiful marine environment safe."
Bunny McDiarmid, executive director for Greenpeace New Zealand, said: "We are so lucky in this country to be able to decide what sort of energy development we do, and we are so stupid to be going down this path."
McDiarmid will join the protestors at sea in a week's time, along with former Green Party leader Jeanette Fitzsimons.