In a David verses Goliath type scenario the Greenpeace yacht Vega has recently engaged in passive opposition to Andarko’s plans to drill a deep sea oil well off Raglan.
The Vega has been doing what yachts can do the world over, that is sail the High Seas,
weigh drop anchor and stay put for a while.
It appears that the area that it has decided to stay put in may be the same area that Andarko wishes to drill holes in the sea bed to see if there are copious amounts of oil located underneath. The leaders of Greenpeace, like many of us, think that it is too dangerous to drill wells in the high seas, and that in any event if our world wants to survive then it has to leave some of the oil in the earth’s crust and why not leave the dangerous expensive stuff alone?
Simon Bridges is saying that the drilling will not be held up but time will tell.
The National Government anticipated that there would be opposition to its proposal to drill baby drill and passed in rather extraordinary circumstances laws that would make it an offence to protest. The proposals, entered into law through a Supplementary Order Paper that was not considered by the select committee, were draconian and it appears breached the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and arguably various international treaties regarding rights of passage of the Sea. Such was the quality of the work that the SOP’s provisions had to be amended by an amending Act before they came into force.
In Bridges’ haste it appears that he may not have covered all the possibilities that the intelligent people who constitute Greenpeace could think of. Because when I look at yesterday’s events I think that there may be a loophole that Greenpeace is happily exploiting.
Basically Bridges did not think of Mahatma Ghandi type passive opposition. And this could prove embarrassing.
The Bridges SOP created a number of offences, the most relevant of which are contained in section 101B of the Crown Minerals Act 1991. This section makes it an offence to intentionally engage in conduct that results in damage to, or interference with, any structure or ship or any attached equipment that is in an offshore area and that is to be, used in mining operations or to interfere with any operations or activities being carried out, or any works being executed, on, by means of, or in connection with such a structure or ship.
It is also an offence if a person is the master of a ship which without reasonable excuse enters a specified non-interference zone for a permitted prospecting, exploration, or mining activity; or the person leaves a ship and, without reasonable excuse, enters a specified non-interference zone for a permitted prospecting, exploration, or mining activity.
There are a couple of potentially interesting issues. The Vega is very passively doing nothing but bobbing up and down. It is obviously not going to cause damage to any other ship. It will not interfere with the other ship unless the other ship interferes with its rights as a wind powered ship to bob up and down.
It has entered a specified non interference zone and if the authorities can work out who the master of the ship was at the time that it
weighed dropped anchor then they may be in trouble. But I am sure pretty sure that the identity of that person will not be offered up. I would also bet that no one will get into trouble for leaving the ship to enter a non interference zone because they are already there.
The Crown has rather draconian powers to remove the Vega from the area but only if an enforcement officer “has reasonable cause to suspect that a person is committing, has committed, or is attempting to commit an offence against section 101B.” So if the ship keeps bobbing up and down and does not damage Andarko’s equipment and there is no particular cause to believe that any particular person who is present was in charge of the ship at the time it entered then there may be some doubt that the power can be exercised.
Having said that I cannot imagine the Government holding back and I expect the Navy to take action pretty quickly.
But if they consider that they do not have power to act then Simon Bridges may regret the indecent haste in which he had the amending legislation passed.