In the early hours of the morning, still many hours before dawn, we picked up the location of the Orient Explorer
and her support vessel the Ocean Pioneer
. Primed for another exciting day on the water and ready to do whatever we could to help stop the development of deep sea oil, there was again a sense of anticipation and excitement amongst the flotilla. But once the sun rose, things unfolded in a very different way to how we expected.
We picked up an unexpected visitor steaming directly towards us at 20 knots – it was the Navy, with their 55m coastal patrol vessel HMNZS Pukaki. When they arrived they patrolled around the flotilla and then headed off ahead towards the Orient Explorer. Perhaps they were just passing? Apparently not, because an hour or so later they were back on the scene, escorting Petrobras’ seismic survey vessel as they approached our location.
We had heard rumours from land that the Navy might be called in. Over the last week and a half we have received regular fly-bys from Air Force Orions, perhaps on some kind of surveillance mission. But this was another level entirely. What were the Navy doing out here amongst a peaceful protest in New Zealand waters? We didn’t have to wait long for an answer.
Just after 11 an inflatable headed out from the Pukaki towards Infinity, packed full of police officers. With sunglasses, helmets and shaded visors down they looked like a swat squad ready to take over our ship. The sergeant asked to speak to the captain (Clemens) and then requested permission to come aboard. Clemens politely declined, saying that they could have the discussion where they were. We were then issued with some legal documents stating that we were not to go within a certain distance of the Orient Explorer. The police then visited each vessel in the Flotilla to Stop Deep Sea Oil, handing out the same legal notices. They returned to the navy ship which then continued to shadow the seismic survey vessel.
I have been doing this kind of work as a campaigner and activist for over 14 years and I have never seen the armed forces deployed in such a manner against peaceful protestors. I had held out hope that the New Zealand Government would see sense and not take such a step.
I find it hard to describe the feeling of seeing the military watching as we exercise what is our democratic right, and our obligation - to protest in a peaceful way. It is extraordinary to me and shocking to be surveilled, monitored and shadowed in this way. It is even more disturbing that the interests for which the armed forces have been deployed are those of a foreign oil company. I believe that the Government has not only misjudged the depth and extent of New Zealanders’ opposition to deep sea oil development, but that it has become so blinded by a misguided pursuit of any economic development at any cost that it has failed to understand the implications of engaging military resources against its own people.
This has done nothing but further strengthen the resolve amongst the flotilla to continue the campaign, and to stay here for the long haul.
This post was written on Tuesday 12th April, 2011 by Vanessa Atkinson
Follow the news about the activists aboard the flotilla opposing deep sea oil drilling off the coast of New Zealand.
Image - © Malcolm Pullman / Greenpeace