Brazilian oil giant Petrobras suspended an offshore survey Sunday in New Zealand after several environmental activists jumped into the water to block the passage of the ship conducting the study, reports the NZ press.
Petrobras began last week exploratory seismic surveying for oil and gas sediments in a 12,000 sq. kilometres area in the Raukumara Basin off East Cape after last year it bought a five-year permit to explore the area.
However over the weekend, swimmers from a protest flotilla of five vessels forced the oil survey ship, ‘Orient Explorer’ to divert off course by swimming close to the ship.
”This is not a protest. It is an action in defence of our ancestral lands and waters, which have sustained us for generations” Maori spokesman Rikirangi Gage said.
However Petrobras spokesperson Mark Blackham said “protests have had a minimal impact on the exploration project, which is expected to last for about 60 days”.
Greenpeace climate campaigner Steve Abel said protesters were sending an emphatic message to the Government that deep sea oil drilling would not be tolerated in the country's waters.
If we don't stop this initial deep sea oil exploration, rigs could be off coasts all around New Zealand in the near future, each one increasing the risk of spills and fuelling climate change as the oil is burnt, he said.
NZ Prime Minister John Key has sought to ease concerns about deep sea oil drilling off the East Cape, saying nothing will go ahead if environmental risks can not be managed.
No one's arguing that there are not environmental issues to consider, everyone's aware of what happened in the Gulf of Mexico, but at the end this is very early days and we want New Zealanders to have better jobs and better incomes, and there's a real opportunity here PM Key told TVNZ.
Petrobas had legal rights and should be able to complete their exploratory work, he said.
”Of course we have to be conscious of the environmental risks that presents. We're not going to progress unless we can manage those environmental risks but I believe we can” said the Prime Minister.