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Communtity Law Manual | Activism | Protests at sea

Different types of protests

Protests at sea

Protesting at sea against mining and drilling

Crown Minerals Act 1991, s 101B

There are special laws around protesting mining or drilling operations in offshore areas.

It’s a criminal offence if you intentionally do things that result in damage to or interference with any ship or structure (an oil rig for example) that’s offshore and that’s involved in mining or drilling operations. For this you can be jailed for up to 12 months, or fined up to $50,000.

The government can also put “non-interference zones” around mining and drilling activities at sea (including prospecting and exploring) that they’ve given permission for. If you’re in charge of a ship and it goes into that non-interference zone without a reasonable excuse, that’s a criminal offence. It’s also a criminal offence if if you leave a ship outside the zone and then swim or otherwise go into it without a reasonable excuse. For those offences, you can be fined up to $10,000.

If there’s a non-interference zone in force, it will be announced in an official “Notice to Mariners” – you can download the current notices in a single file from  and search the file for “Crown Minerals Act” to find any relevant notices.

Crimes Act 1961, ss 92, 93

There’s also the crime of “piracy” if you board a New Zealand ship and then do one of several things, including throwing goods overboard, destroying goods, or assaulting the ship’s com­mander. However, being charged with a piracy offence is very rare.

Example: Discharge without conviction for interfering
with a survey ship

[2018] NZDC 19100

On 10 April 2017, to protest the activities of the Amazon Warrier seismic survey ship, Russell Norman and Sarah Howell, two Greenpeace activists, swam into the ship’s path. The ship turned to avoid them, but Norman and Howell got into the ship’s path again. “Eventually, albeit after some hours”, says the court judgement, “the Amazon Warrior completed a full 360 degree turn, and returned to its original survey course.”

When Norman and Howell got back to Napier, the police arrested them. They were charged under the Crown Minerals Act, section 101B(1)(c), with “intentionally engag[ing] in conduct resulting in the interference with operations or activities being carried out by a ship in an offshore area”.

The two activists pleaded guilty to the charge, but argued for a discharge without conviction – this is where the judge releases you and you don’t get a criminal record. To get this outcome, “the direct and indirect consequences of a conviction would [have to] be out of all proportion to the gravity of the offence.”

The judge granted them the discharge without conviction, on the basis of these factors:

  • The seriousness of the offence was low, as they hadn’t used any violence or force, hadn’t interfered with any physical property, had used appropriate safety procedures and equipment, and hadn’t physically touched the survey ship. Also they had been offered diversion by the prosecution (but turned it down), which indicated that the prosecution thought it was only a low-level offence.
  • Neither of the two activists had a criminal record and were of “previous good character”.
  • The two activists had also pleaded guilty, so as not to unnecessarily use up court resources in holding a trial.
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