It's a flotilla of six sailing boats that have been chosen by activists to challenge deep sea drilling in the Tasman Sea off the coast of New Zealand. The beauty of the scene and the graceful lines of the sailing boats belied the drama that is developing over the issue.
The Oil Free Seas Flotilla at the site where the ship Bob Douglas is going to be starting exploratory drilling in the next few days. Photo taken from the mast of Baltazar. Clockwise, starting at bottom left corner: Friendship, Tiama, Vega, Ratbag and Shearwater II. A floating banner reads ’Stop Deep Sea Oil’. The Oil Free Seas Flotilla is a coalition of individuals and boat owners who oppose deep-sea drilling
As the New Zealand mainstream press follows the scene from minute to minute, they are reporting that the time for a skirmish is fast approaching as the oil drilling ship the Noble Bob Douglas prepares to commence drilling, even though the six yachts are holding steadfastly to their protesting position, with one, the Vega, right inside the 500m exclusion zone. The other sailing boats are Baltazar, Friendship, Tiama, Ratbag and Shearwater II.
Among those on board the 11.5m ketch Vega are Greenpeace NZ chief executive Bunny McDiarmid and former Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons.
The owning company, Anadarko had intended to begin drilling 185km off the west coast of the north Island on Thursday or Friday but has been shadowed by the flotilla of six protest vessels, which has apparently caused their delay.
Flotilla and ship
Anadarko has said that the presence of the protest vessels would not prevent the drilling from going ahead but Greenpeace spokesman Steve Abel did not believe this.
'At the time they arrived (Tuesday 19 November) they said they intended to commence drilling operations imminently but they haven't.
'Our understanding is that the presence of the Vega is stopping them from drilling and we don't believe they're going to drill while the Vega is there.'
Mr Abel told the New Zealand Herald that neither police nor Maritime New Zealand had contacted Greenpeace about the Vega being within the exclusion zone.
Anadarko New Zealand corporate affairs manager Alan Seay said last week that the Bob Douglas was on track to begin drilling, despite the presence of the protest vessels.
Since then Mr Seay has told TVNZ's Breakfast the drilling was set to be under way by midday on Tuesday (26th November)
'There's always a risk of something going wrong if somebody goes into a safety zone - it's like having an unauthorised person walking into a construction site,' he said.