A ship's captain who breached the exclusion zone during a protest against deep sea oil exploration off the East Cape has been convicted.

San Pietro skipper Elvis Heremaia Teddy, 49, was due to defend two charges at an eight-day defended hearing set to start on November 30.

But instead Teddy pleaded guilty to one charge each of breaching the Maritime Transport Act and resisting arrest when he appeared in Tauranga District Court, yesterday.

Judge Patrick Treston, who appeared by audio-visual link, sentenced Teddy to 60 hours' community work.

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The charges stemmed from Teddy's protest actions on April 23, 2011.

Teddy admitted he caused unnecessary risk to the oil exploration vessel Orient Explorer, which was carrying out a survey of the Raukumara Basin for Brazilian oil giant Petrobras.

After entering the exclusion zone, he drove the San Pietro into the path of the survey ship and deployed buoys and two tuna fishing hand-lines into the water in front of it.

Teddy and his crew repeatedly ignored police advice to leave the exclusion zone. He gave police the finger and yelled abuse at officers.

After five unheeded warnings police boarded the boat but Teddy refused to relinquish control. He had to be forcibly removed and he initially violently struggled with police when they attempted to arrest him.

In July 2012, after hearing three days of prosecution evidence, Judge Treston dismissed the charges against Teddy saying he agreed with his lawyer that there was no case to answer because the offences occurred outside New Zealand's territorial waters.

Police appealed to the High Court and Court of Appeal who overturned Judge Treston's decision. Following dismissal of Teddy's appeal to the Supreme Court earlier this year, the matter came back to the district court for a re-hearing.

His lawyer, Ron Mansfield, who also appeared by audio-visual link, told Judge Treston that Teddy's actions stemmed from his and his iwi's legitimate concerns about the risk of an oil spill, which could cause significant damage to the seabed and fisheries.

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Teddy was a man of otherwise sound character and good moral values but unfortunately, although his protest was well-intended, he accepted his actions amounted to a crime, he said.

Police prosecutor David Pawson said after reading Teddy's letter of apology to the master of the Orient Explorer and numerous "very good" references, police sought a sentence of community work but no longer sought a disqualification of his commercial skipper's licence.

Judge Treston said he accepted Teddy's actions stemmed from legitimate concerns and it was unfortunate that he had taken things a little too far.

"I also accept there was no danger to any person on either vessel," the judge said.

He said in sentencing he had also taken into account Teddy's guilty pleas, apology letter and references which attested to his otherwise good character.

Judge Treston said the sentence of community work was appropriate in all the circumstances but it was not necessary to interfere with his skipper's licence.