Henk Haazen is the owner/skipper of the yacht Tiama. He gives his perspective on the work of the Flotilla to Stop Deep Sea Oil.
April 22 2011
We finally arrived at East Cape after a 750 mile, five day journey from Bluff, to join the boats of the Stop Deep Sea Oil flotilla. We were delayed for one day by a 55 knot breeze forcing us to seek shelter before crossing Cook Strait.
After rounding East Cape at midnight, at first light we saw a big target on the radar, which we assumed was the seismic survey ship Orient Explorer. It is surprising how close to land the proposed deep sea oil exploration is. It is no wonder that the local Maori population is so upset about it. It is right in their backyard.
We met up with the other flotilla boats at noon. Windborne is a traditional gaff-rigged schooner out of Whitianga, a pleasure to the eye to see under full sail.
With her was the 40-foot fishing boat San Pietro, belonging to and manned by the local iwi, te Whanau a Apanui, with one of their tribal leaders on board. They looked great, covered in colourful banners and placards, and were in good spirits.
Later on we talked to the third boat in the flotilla, Siome, a veteran from previous Nuclear Free Flotilla expeditions out into the Tasman Sea, mounted to stop plutonium passing through our waters.
We (the three Tiama crew) are the new boys on the block, and are excited to be here among these veterans of this campaign. The three above boats have been on this campaign for three weeks solid, and we are humbled to be part of this.
Around mid-afternoon the seismic survey ship Orient Explorer came in view. We sailed along their track and then crossed in front of them, keeping well clear, together with the other flotilla boats.
The survey ship was accompanied by one of the New Zealand navy’s multi-purpose patrol vessels Taupo, loaded full of police. Later on that day we got a visit from two such policemen, sporting four-day stubble to have that ‘how-tough-it-is-out-here-at-sea’ look.
They used the age-old line of every enforcement agency, explaining to us that they were there to “look after our safety”. Yeah right, I have heard that one before. What they are really saying is that we better do as they say otherwise we will be arrested. For this campaign on the high seas they seem to be making the rules up as they go, having effectively said that they had decided that no vessel can come closer than one mile to the side of the big oil company’s survey vessel, and no closer then ½ a mile in front.
I did ask them on which law that was based - as are outside of the 12 mile NZ territorial limit – but we did not get a clear answer on that.
After this little encounter we took over the role of shadowing the survey a ship, as it does its grid search of the Raukumara Basin. We are bearing witness, as the other flotilla boats have been doing for the last 3 weeks, providing a nagging reminder of our presence, and hopefully making the issue visible to the rest of the New Zealand public.
We followed the survey vessel all night, to the SW corner of the survey area, where they turned and headed NE again. I asked the skipper of the survey vessel if he could give me the coordinates for where he was going to enter his search grid after the turn, so that we could stay away from his towing cable as he turned, but he said that he did not have those available. He obviously did not want to give them to us, safety coming second. However, he did advise us when he was going to turn, and its radius. All fun and games I guess.
Heading back NE we met up with the rest of the flotilla, and the colourful Whanau a Apanui fishing boat the San Pietro, the crew of which were fishing in their traditional fishing grounds, which just happened to be right in front of the bow of the oncoming survey vessel, with its six mile tow. They were asked to move but refused, stating that the survey vessel and Petrobras were not welcome in their waters, and that these waters were for fishing, and not for polluting with oil.
It was a good speech and it came from the heart.
Of course the Navy with the New Zealand police on board came on top of them like a ton of bricks, with two semi-rigid inflatables, and about nine guys in it boarding the boat and taking it away from the path of the survey vessel.
We later learned the skipper, Elvis Teddy, was charged under the maritime transport act.
We sailed slowly through the night, keeping a good watch, as the East Cape is a turning point for a lot of shipping, and it is a busy place. At first light we made our way to where we were expecting the survey vessel to be at in the early afternoon. The three flotilla boats, the NZ Navy patrol vessel Taupo, the survey vessel Orient Explorer, and its security boat the Ocean Pioneer, all met up again. We stayed with them for the rest of the day, until the call was made to sail to Tauranga to avoid the worst of the oncoming bad weather system, and also to support the skipper of the San Pietro, Elvis Teddy, at his court appearance.
Bye for now
Henk Haazen, skipper r/v Tiama