World’s biggest oil survey ship flouts safety law in NZ waters during 7.8 earthquake

Press release - November 17, 2016
Upon its arrival in New Zealand waters, the world’s largest seismic surveying ship turned off transmission from its mandatory AIS safety device, including throughout the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit early on Monday morning and the subsequent tsunami threat.

The 125 metre long ship, owned by the world’s biggest oilfield services company, Schlumberger, has not transmitted from its Automatic Identification System (AIS) for the past five days, except only once briefly on Monday.  

The ship is searching for oil off the East Coast on behalf of oil giants Statoil and Chevron.

Boats are required under maritime safety laws to have their AIS on in the interests of safety and to prevent dangerous at-sea events like collisions.

Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner, Kate Simcock, says the ship seems to have purposefully turned off its AIS in order to hide from people protesting against its activities in New Zealand.

A kayak flotilla, organised by Oil Free Wellington and supported by Greenpeace, took place on Sunday around the time the ship was due into port in Wellington.

“It’s reckless and dangerous that during a time when New Zealand has been hit by a terrible earthquake, this ship has taken the law into its own hands in order to hide from some peaceful protestors,” Simcock says.

“It has sat out there somewhere between Napier and Kaikoura with its AIS safety system not transmitting its location throughout the earthquake, tsunami threats, and the huge storms that have been battering the lower North Island. Visibility at sea is vital for safety and it’s exactly at times like these that an AIS is so important. This ship must be held accountable to the law.

“It’s crazy enough that in the teeth of a climate emergency, the John Key Government has invited the world’s biggest oil surveying machine to come and search for the oil that scientists say we can’t burn if we want a future for our families.

“But now this ship is doing everything possible, including breaking the law, to actively avoid the New Zealand public who are saying it is not welcome in their waters.”

To survey for oil, the ship will blast underwater sound waves from arrays that drag for kilometres behind it every eight seconds, all day and night, for months on end.

The boom of these sound waves reverberates throughout the ocean, and can have chronic impacts on whales and dolphins and potentially deafen whales. These marine creatures depend on their hearing to survive, whether it’s for feeding and nursing young, or communicating with mates.

The ship will be seismic blasting between Napier and Kaikoura, an area inhabited by thousands of whales and dolphins.

The boat’s arrival in New Zealand coincided with two of the biggest local councils in the country, Auckland Council and Christchurch City Council, voting to oppose offshore oil prospecting, exploration and drilling.

An unprecedented alliance of Maori communities have also voiced opposition to deep water drilling on the East Coast. Almost 70 Maori hapū from Cape Runaway to Kaikoura have called on Statoil and Chevron to cease their operations and leave New Zealand. Over 6,000 New Zealanders have signed on to the letter.

And a video protesting seismic blasting posted on the Greenpeace New Zealand Facebook page has also struck a chord with the public, reaching 1.4 million people in just two days. It's now been shared 10,000 times and has amassed 3,500 comments since Tuesday.

Over 20,000 people have sent emails to the CEOs of Statoil and Chevron, demanding they stop oil exploration in New Zealand waters.

Simcock says it’s clear that people do not want oil drilling in New Zealand.

“It is an insult to democracy if the Government does not pay attention to the public, hapū and councils all over the country saying decisively that they will not stand for a climate-destroying oil agenda,” she says.   

“As well as risking our future, seismic testing and drilling pose direct threats to our beaches and marine life, both through the distress the sound blasts used in seismic testing cause creatures of the ocean and through the risk of a devastating oil spill on our beaches.”