Greenpeace Leader Pleads Guilty to Blocking Seismic Ship

Greenpeace footage of Dr. Norman's encounter with the Amazon Warrior (social media)

By The Maritime Executive 04-30-2018 07:55:00

The executive director of Greenpeace's New Zealand branch, Dr. Russel Norman, has pled guilty to attempting to block the passage of an offshore seismic vessel. Norman has admitted that in April 2017, he and an accomplice swam in front of the Amazon Warrior in an effort to obstruct her work off the coast of Wairarapa.

At the time of the incident, the Warrior was 50 nm offshore, outside of New Zealand's territorial seas but within its EEZ. Greenpeace claims that the action forced the Warrior to change course, reducing the quality of her seismic data. 

Norman and climate activist Sara Howell face charges under a new regulation that was specifically designed to prosecute offshore oil exploration protesters. It is the first time that it has been enforced. If sentenced, Norman faces a fine of up to $35,000 or 12 months in jail. 

The two activists admit to the charges but contend that they should be discharged without a conviction, as "their conduct was justified and necessary to bring about required change to government policy." (They recently achieved this objective: On April 11, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that her government would ban all new offshore oil exploration permits, though it will leave 22 existing permits in force.)

"We have never denied the facts, that we defied the ban on protest at sea. We see the best course of action now is to plead guilty while making a plea in mitigation in Court on the grounds that our actions were reasonable and honourable given the threat of climate change," said Norman in a statement. "We remain hopeful that the Court will agree, given the importance of this issue."

On Monday, New Zealand's Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment dropped related charges against Greenpeace as an organization.