Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Lucy Lawless' court date receives global coverage

Actress Lucy Lawless arrives at the Auckland District Court. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Actress Lucy Lawless arrives at the Auckland District Court. Photo / Brett Phibbs

If you want to stage a successful protest, it helps to have Xena: Warrior Princess on board.

Lucy Lawless and seven other Greenpeace activists today pleaded guilty over the occupation of an oil drilling ship in February in protest of planned oil drilling operations in the Arctic.

The New Zealand actor's arrest and the subsequent court action received publicity from far afield, and was covered by global media giants including the BBC, ABC, Reuters, the Daily Mail and the Washington Post.

The huge media scrum outside Auckland District Court this morning also attested to the success of the protest.

"Yeah, I think we've helped kick off a great movement,'' Lawless told reporters.

The eight activists - Lawless, Jan Raoni Hammer, Mike Ross Buchanan, Shayne Panayiotis Comino, Vivienne Rachel Hadlow, Shai Sebastian Naides, Zach Steven Penman and Ilai Amir - were initially charged with burglary but this was amended in court today to the lesser charge of unlawfully being on a ship.

The eight appeared in the dock together and stood quietly as their lawyer Ron Mansfield entered the pleas on their behalf.

He asked that no conviction be formally entered yet, to allow the possibility of a discharge without conviction when they are sentenced in New Plymouth District Court on September 14.

In February the protestors broke into a restricted area at Port Taranaki and boarded Shell-contracted drilling ship the Noble Explorer to prevent it heading to the Chukchi Sea, off the coast of Alaska, to drill three exploratory oil wells.

They scaled its 58 metre drilling tower and set up camp at the top for 77 hours, using social media to beam their message around the world.

Lawless was adamant the protest had had an impact, saying 470,000 people supported the action.

She said she had no plans to repeat her actions; "but I had to do what I had to do''.

She said her association with Greenpeace would continue but she was not sure what form it would take.

"We want to tell (those responsible for deep sea oil drilling) absolutely under no circumstances is this a good idea. They are robbing our children of their birthright to a clean and healthy planet and they know it.''

Hadlow read a statement on behalf of the group outside court:

"We stand by our actions in occupying the Noble Discoverer. Our actions and those that have followed since against Shell-contracted vessels have brought the world's attention to Shell's insane plans and have brought 475,000 people to lend their names to stopping Shell's drilling in the pristine Arctic.

"Like the Arctic, New Zealand is also under threat from extreme frontier oil drilling. Companies like Petrobras, Shell and Anadarko are planning to start exploratory drilling in some of New Zealand's most isolated, precious and exposed waters, possibly as soon as this summer.''

Hadlow said the west coast of the North Island, the Canterbury coast, the Catlins, Stewart Island and Cook Strait are all at risk.

"Because of this threat, we hope that our actions will inspire all of those people who care about the health of the planet - local jobs, wildlife, our ability to eat fish from the sea, and our way of life here in New Zealand - to join Greenpeace, iwi and all the groups working alongside us, and make sure that this country, and the Arctic, is never faced with an oil disaster, and that runaway climate change does not rob our children and grandchildren of their future.''

Hadlow told reporters the initial charge of burglary was inappropriate and out of proportion with what the group did.

She said the Noble Discoverer had just left Seattle, and had not yet started drilling.

- APNZ

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