With a banner reading “Don’t mine the Moana”, and flying a Tino Rangatiratanga flag, a Māori activist from Northland joined two Greenpeace activists in the Eastern Pacific to confront the deep sea mining research vessel, James Cook off the coast of Costa Rica.

While critical negotiations at the controversial International Seabed Authority (ISA) meeting in Jamaica are ongoing, the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise with three New Zealanders on board intercepted the vessel as it was returning from a seven-week expedition in areas of the Pacific Ocean targeted for deep sea mining.

A third Greenpeace activist also scaled the side of the moving vessel to unfurl a banner reading “Say No to Deep Sea Mining”.

On board the Arctic Sunrise, Greenpeace Aotearoa campaigner James Hita of (Ngati Whātua o Oruawharo/Te Turi o Hau) says: “For too long, Pacific peoples have been excluded from decisions that impact our territories and waters. If governments don’t stop this industry from starting, a new cycle of colonial exploitation will begin. We reject a future with deep sea mining.”

Māori activist Quack Pirihi (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Wai, Ngati Porou, Ngāti Whatua o Kaipara whakapapa) said the opportunity to participate in these forums, and the decisions made there will have a profound impact for generations to come.

“Standing here as a proud descendant of the fiercest tūpuna Māori is an honour that holds much responsibility. Our people are very rarely given the opportunity to speak in these forums, and by flying our Tino Rangatiratanga flag at the ISA meeting in Jamaica and here at sea, I am connecting not only myself to this kaupapa, but the mokopuna that will come long after me. This flag connects the movement for absolute sovereignty over ourselves in Aotearoa, to the movement of protecting our origin stories, and the moana.”

With the research vessel James Cook, the ‘Smartex Expedition’ returned to sites where previous test mining took place in 1979 to monitor long-term impacts of mining but also to research how to ” reduce the risks” as part of “developing a sustainable approach” to deep sea mining.

Greenpeace says this is a “smokescreen”, and that the project forms part of the deep sea mining industry’s development programme and is “being used to enable the nascent deep sea mining industry”.

“While political tensions flare in Jamaica right now over whether to allow deep sea mining to start, commercial interests are pressing ahead at sea like it’s a done deal. As if sending a ship to enable further destruction of our ecosystems wasn’t offensive enough, sending one named after the most notorious coloniser of the Pacific is a cruel insult to our people,” said Hita.

The action at sea took place as world delegates debated, at the International Seabed Authority, whether to approve the first application to mine the deep.

“Indigenous Māori activists flying the Tino Rangatiratanga flag and challenging a ship named after a coloniser with a heartfelt message of ‘Don’t mine the Moana’ is a significant moment. We are calling out neo-colonialism in the context of deep sea mining. We are standing for the ocean, for Pacific peoples and for indigenous peoples, and the message is clear: Deep sea mining must not begin.”

Last week, diplomats accused the head of the ISA, Michael Lodge, of having lost the impartiality demanded by his position and interfering with the decision-making of governments at the ISA to accelerate mining.

More than 700 scientists from 44 countries have already opposed the industry by signing an open letter calling for a pause.

Negotiations at the ISA continue until 31 March.