Lucy Lawless' ability to travel to the United States could be "seriously impaired" if she is found guilty of burglary following her arrest after participating in a Greenpeace protest, a legal expert says.
The star of Xena and Spartacus was among seven protesters charged after a demonstration aboard a Shell drillship in Port Taranaki yesterday.
Police officers scaled the Noble Discoverer's drilling tower to arrest the group, four days after the protest began, 53m up the ship's drilling tower.
The group would appear in New Plymouth District Court on Thursday, police said.
Though unlikely, the protesters could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted, said Auckland University Faculty of Law associate professor Warren Brookbanks.
"They're not going to get imprisonment at all, it would probably be dealt with by a fine, I would think. Or if they have a good lawyer they might be able to successfully persuade the court to convict and discharge them."
Mr Brookbanks said Lawless' lawyer would most likely seek a discharge without conviction which would allow her to continue to travel to the United States - where she frequently works - without any problems.
"[A conviction] could seriously impair her ability to travel to countries like the United States, where they take criminal convictions very seriously."
Mr Brookbanks was surprised police chose to charge the protesters with burglary - defined by the Crimes Act as breaking and entering into any building or ship without authority and with intent to commit a crime.
"They could have charged them with being in an enclosed yard or disorderly behaviour or something like that. It strikes me that this is an element of overkill," he said.
The Noble Discoverer was meant to leave Port Taranaki over the weekend on a 6000 nautical mile journey to the Chukchi Sea, off the coast of Alaska, to drill three exploratory oil wells.
"This chapter has ended, but the story of the battle to save the Arctic has just begun," Lawless said before the arrests.
"Seven of us climbed up that drillship to stop Arctic drilling, but 133,000 of us came down.
"We'll be disappointed if we have to leave but will go peacefully."
Greenpeace said more than 133,000 people sent emails to Shell executives telling them to cancel their plans to drill in the Arctic, which they said caused Shell's email systems to overload repeatedly.
Earlier the group had vowed "Guantanamo" style tactics would not bring them down. Six of the original seven had spent a "gruelling" night on Sunday night at Port Taranaki, said Greenpeace NZ climate campaigner Steve Abel. Bright lights and loud music through the night kept the group awake but they remained "resolute, determined to stay".
In a press release, Shell New Zealand chairman Rob Jager said he was disappointed in Greenpeace's unco-operative stance and was concerned about the welfare of the activists still onboard.
"It was good to see yesterday one of the protesters halt his unlawful occupation of the drilling rig and the matter resolve itself safely.
"We look forward to the remaining protesters taking similar prudent and respectful action. Actions like this jeopardise the safety of all involved and our offer of an open conversation still holds."
He added: "Shell has taken unprecedented steps to pursue safe, environmentally responsible exploration in shallow water off the coast of Alaska."
PROTEST STIRS NEW INTEREST IN ACTRESS' AD FOR SHELL
Lucy Lawless' relationship with Shell may have recently turned sour but her link with the oil giant appears to have once been amicable.
In the early 1990s, the actress appeared in a television commercial (watch below or go here) for New Zealand Shell to sell its petrol.
She later went on to star in the show that made her famous, Xena: Warrior Princess.
The 45-second advertisement features a couple in a red convertible being swayed by cartoon petrol pumps, dancers and animated birds singing about the "three good reasons" to swap to Shell.
"A change for good is better for you," the cast sings.
At the end of the ad, Lawless stands on a Shell petrol station forecourt as one of the pink animated birds flies around her and the words "You can be sure of Shell" are sung and appear across the bottom of the screen.
The commercial was posted on YouTube three years ago, but has recently attracted a resurgence in interest and comments following Lawless' protesting.
One of the comments posted last night said: "Well, well, well - what do we have here Lucy?"
And another commented on the irony: "Used by Shell then and used by Greenpeace now. Nice work Lucy."