Hugs of renewed friendship

Near the East Cape the local iwi te Whanau a Apanui have lived on the land and fished in the waters of the Raukumara Basin for generations.

In 2011 the New Zealand Government gave oil exploration and drilling rights across the Raukumara Basin to the Brazilian oil giant Petrobras.

The Brazilian oil giant then sent a seismic survey vessel called the Orient Explorer to assess its potential for oil and gas. Te Whanau a Apanui, as they have done for many generations, stood up in response to defend their home.

Together with Greenpeace, the local people put together a flotilla of yachts and fishing boats and set sail directly into the path of the oil giant. It was a mismatch of David and Goliath proportions.

San Pietro

Aboard one of their fishing vessels along with local skipper Elvis Teddy, tribal leader Rikirangi Gage, said, “Petrobras has no consent to be in these waters from te Whanau a Apanui. We’ve already told them that. This is not a protest. This is an act of defence of our ancestral lands and waters that have sustained us for generations. Te Whanau a Apanui want Petrobras to leave these waters and not return.”

For forty two days and nights the little flotilla braved the open waters of the Raukumara and harangued the Orient Explorer disrupting its survey of the area.  

A swimmer from one of the flotilla boats in front of the survey vessel

The New Zealand Government fought back, sending not only the police, but also the Navy and the Air Force to the protect the Brazilian oil company’s interests.

The NZ Navy protecting the interests of foreign oil company Petrobras

The final act coming when Elvis Teddy, Rikirangi Gage and crew sailed their tribal fishing boat into the path of the Petrobras vessel and declared; We won't be moving. We'll be doing some fishing. You can hear a recording of the radio transmission here:


Police on a New Zealand Navy vessel boarded the San Pietro and arrested skipper Elvis Teddy.. and the rest is history.

Petrobras went home earlier than expected and not long after that announced it would hand back its licence to drill for oil in the deep waters off the East Cape.

Elvis Teddy still awaits trial for his act of defiance  - so it’s not quite over yet. But the feeling on the East Cape when we visited yesterday in the new Rainbow Warrior was that a great victory had been won and a lasting friendship made.

Rainbow Warrior captain Joel Stewart greets tribal leader Rikirangi Gage

Along with people from the flotilla and from the Greenpeace New Zealand, the crew were given an incredible welcome on Kauaetangohia the the Whanau a Apanui Marae in Whangaparaoa Bay. We talked, sang and and ate together and most of us left feeling as if we’d made friends for life.

In the words of one kuia Aunty Addie Waititi, we are together now, wherever you go, Te Whanau A Apanui go with you. We may not go physically but we go in spirit. So it’s with that in our hearts that we sail south towards more waters and communities threatened by deep sea oil drilling.

But I feel sure that in years to come we will look back and see that this was the high watermark, the place where the wave finally broke and retreated and we turned back the threat of extreme oil drilling from New Zealand’s waters.

Oil Free Seas!