Local yacht joins oil protest

By Peter de Graaf

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Ratbag leaves Opua to join a protest flotilla heading to an oil drilling site off the west coast. Photo / Richard Simkins
Ratbag leaves Opua to join a protest flotilla heading to an oil drilling site off the west coast. Photo / Richard Simkins

A Northland sailing ship is among the boats taking part in a flotilla protesting a Texan company's plans to drill for oil off the west coast.

Ratbag, a replica of an 1860s gaff-rigged fishing schooner, left Opua to join the seven-strong fleet heading to the Anadarko drill site 200km west of Raglan.

About 50 people gathered at Opua wharf on Tuesday to wave Ratbag and its crew off.

It was joined by three vessels which left Auckland on Monday and will rendezvous in the Tasman Sea around November 18 with three more boats departing from Wellington, Kaikoura and Bluff.

Ratbag is skippered by Chris, a resident of the Bay of Islands for the past 13 years, and his partner Ina.

They did not want to give their full names because of a new law, dubbed the Anadarko Amendment, curbing protest at sea.

The law was passed under urgency after a Brazilian oil company canned its oil exploration plans in the Raukumara Basin off East Cape.

Chris said their intention was to "take the voice of the people out there and let oil companies know that we're not happy".

They had not taken part in a protest flotilla before but, as the owners of a capable sea-going vessel, felt they had to do something.

Their concerns included the fact Anadarko was using a new, untested drill ship and was drilling far deeper than previously attempted in New Zealand waters.

They were particularly concerned about the lack of support if problems occurred, with specialist help about three weeks away from the drill site.

Chris said he and his crew were undeterred by the new law restricting offshore protests and the likely intervention of the Navy and police.

A captain who took part in the Raukumara protest had told him that, once he had had a chance to share his views, the Navy vessel's crew were supportive of the flotilla.

"In the end I'm sure their desire in their job is to protect all our best interests.

"I'm a peaceful person going on a peaceful sail to carry the voice of our concerned people to the oil company. I'm sure they will respect our rights to do so."

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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