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A spokesman for Austrian oil company OMV, which is involved with a hydrographic survey of the Great South Basin alongside minority joint venture partner Shell New Zealand, said yesterday the Polarcus had left its Wellington berth and was heading to Dunedin.
Polarcus tender supply vessel the Jaya Amazon was seen on Otago Harbour yesterday, ahead of a scheduled berth by its mother ship at the Port Chalmers Beach St wharf at 6am tomorrow.
OMV New Zealand managing director Peter Zeilinger has said it was "unknown" whether protesters were heading south to coincide with the beginning of a $50 million programme, which would initially focus on a deep-water hydrographic survey of the ocean floor in the Great South Basin.
Greenpeace climate-change campaign spokesman Steve Abel, of Auckland, said any oil exploration surveys in the ocean waters of New Zealand should be opposed.
Greenpeace protesters had targeted the Polarcus when it arrived off the Taranaki coast for oil exploration work in October. However, he would not discuss whether any Dunedin-based Greenpeace volunteers planned a demonstration or protest if the survey ship visited Port Chalmers, as scheduled.
"We don't think they should be exploring for oil. Any deep-sea oil blowout would be literally catastrophic to New Zealand's coastline and wildlife."
The risks were far too great if anything went wrong and far outweighed any projected economic benefits being touted by oil companies to either local business or the national economy, Mr Abel said.
Greenpeace believed the money being spent on hydrographic surveys for potential deep-sea oil exploration projects would be better invested in clean fuel and energy alternatives.
Save Otakou from Oil Drilling spokeswoman Niamh O'Flynn, who led a peaceful demonstration at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in August against oil exploration, said she hoped a protest would be mounted against any visit by the Polarcus to Port Chalmers. She intended to discuss the scheduled visit with other people who opposed the concept of oil exploration off the Otago coast.
Dunedin Forest and Bird spokesman Mark Hanger said exploratory oil drilling raised concerns for local branch members, but he was unwilling to discuss matters without first consulting with national representatives.
He declined to comment on whether local society members would oppose a visit by exploratory survey vessels to southern waters.
OMV has said in a media statement Polarcus Alima's hydrographic survey would take until the end of 2013 to complete, before any considerations were made about oil exploration drilling in the Great South Basin.