Greenpeace boss Russel Norman and fellow climate change activist Sara Howell want their day in court.
In April Norman, Howell, and a third Greenpeace protester, Gavin Mulvay, were charged by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment with interfering in the operations of a oil industry survey ship, the Amazon Warrior.
Greenpeace New Zealand was also charged over the incident, where the three activists swam within an exclusion zone near the ship while it was carrying out seismic survey work off the Wairarapa Coast in April.
Although they were offered diversion, Norman and Howell instead pleaded not guilty and intend to fight the charges in court.
Mulvay has accepted the diversion offer, meaning he will avoid a conviction.
Norman has previously described the prosecution against the three as “morally repugnant” and said accepting MBIE’s offer of diversion would involve an admission he broke the law, which he does not accept.
The case is due to be called in Napier District Court in October.
Norman said it was necessary to stop the Amazon Warrior searching for oil, in order to protect people from climate change, which he believed was being driven by our use of fossil fuels.
“By stopping this ship blasting our sea floor in search of new deep sea oil, we were stopping a far greater wrong – the destruction of our climate, and the risk to our marine life and coastal communities from a catastrophic oil spill,” he said.
It is the first time anyone has been charged under the 2013 Amendment to the Crown Minerals Act, dubbed the “Anadarko Amendment”, which was put in place specifically to stop protests at sea around oil exploration.
The decision to plead not guilty was also fuelled by claims that private investigators have been monitoring Greenpeace and its staff.
“The material we’ve seen shows our people have been watched every day, for years. They’ve been followed to their homes, they’ve been tailed in their personal time, they’ve had their privacy breached in completely unacceptable ways” Norman said.
The group had travelled more than 50 nautical miles out to the oil ship in the crowd-funded boat, Taitu, and put themselves in the water in its path, forcing it to stop seismic blasting for the day.
The NZME reported Greenpeace is taking legal action against the alleged surveillance, which it claims is being done on behalf of Statoil, a state-owned Norwegian oil company, and Anadarko, a US oil firm.
Statoil’s New Zealand country manager Brynjulv Klove denied his company had contracted private investigators Thompson & Clark, or any company, to conduct surveillance of Greenpeace or its members.
“However, we are a client of Thompson & Clark. They provide advice and services relevant to ensuring the safety and security of our personnel,” Klove said.
Norman said Greenpeace had seen evidence showing “our people have been watched every day, for years”.
“I have to fight these charges laid against us because we are in a climate emergency that’s being fuelled by the oil industry and propped up by our own Government. Politicians and industry are failing us, but people everywhere are rising up and taking action.”