Officer in at-sea protest arrest had safety concerns

By Kiri Gillespie of the Bay of Plenty Times -
The survey vessel Orient Explorer bears down on Greenpeace inflatibles attempting to force the ship off course. Photo / Supplied
The survey vessel Orient Explorer bears down on Greenpeace inflatibles attempting to force the ship off course. Photo / Supplied

The officer in charge of an at-sea operation resulting in the arrest of an anti-oil drilling protester said he held grave concerns for the safety of people involved.

San Pietro skipper Elvis Teddy, 45, was arrested and charged with operating a vessel in an unsafe manner causing unnecessary risk after protest action at deep sea oil rigging exploration at Raukumura Basin, off the East Cape.

A defended hearing, set down for four days, started in the Tauranga District Court yesterday.

About 20 supporters from te Whanau-a-Apanui and Greenpeace packed the court room.

In an amendment to the Maritime Transport Act charge, Teddy was accused of driving the San Pietro across the bow of the Ocean Explorer and putting his safety and the safety of others at risk.

The officer in charge of the operation at sea, known only as Constable A, said that from his position at the bridge of a nearby ship the San Pietro and the Ocean Explorer at one point appeared to be touching.

Despite warnings to return to a specific safety zone, already established, the San Pietro continued to move closer to the Ocean Explorer and responded to police instruction with offensive hand gestures, Constable A said.

"My understanding is they were not complying with instructions. They were not heeding to warnings, and there were several warnings given. They were being belligerent, therefore police boarded and arrested the master."

When defence counsel Ron Mansfield asked what motivated Constable A to give authority for officers to board the San Pietro, he said became concerned at a feeling "that something was building" among the protest water craft.

"You could just sense it ... they were almost forming a posse for lack of a better term. The San Pietro deployed buoys and things then the San Pietro moved towards the bow."
When questioned by police prosecutor Sergeant Barry Woon, Constable A said there were fears the situation could escalate.

"I had grave concerns for the safety of the people aboard San Pietro and the equipment and the Ocean Explorer. If something tragic did happen, then police and others would be obliged to help and then put themselves in danger."

A buoy and flag were among a dozen pieces of evidence presented in the courtroom yesterday.

The hearing will continue tomorrow.

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