Related topics

Maori protester crushes America’s Cup with sledgehammer

March 14, 1997 GMT

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) _ The America’s Cup, smashed by a Maori activist with a sledgehammer in a frenzied political protest, will be sent back for repairs to the manufacturer.

``We haven’t been approached, but we’re offering our services,″ said Jonathan Chippendale, marketing manager of Garrard and Company Ltd.

``There would be no better place for it to be repaired. We have our own silversmith and engravers. If we were honored with the restoration, it would all be done here.″

Garrard might not have the original plans for the trophy _ the oldest in international sports and yachting’s most coveted prize _ which was built in 1848.

``It was made such a long time ago, I’m not sure if the plans still exist,″ Chippendale said, but the company does have records of the trophy.

Commodore John Heise of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron said until it was sent to Garrard, it was impossible to say if it could be successfully restored.

New Zealand’s National Radio said the Cup was ``virtually destroyed″ and would have to be rebuilt.

A Maori separatist group that wants an independent Maori state claimed responsibility for the attack, and said more would follow until the ``illegal occupation of New Zealand″ by whites ended.

A seven-member group, Tino Rangitiratanga Liberation Organization (Maori Sovereignty Liberation Organization), claimed responsibility.

Lorraine Smith, the lawyer representing the man arrested for the attack, said: ``The America’s Cup stands for everything my client’s organization despises. He believes he had a moral right to do exactly as he did.″

Though police have not yet named the suspect, New Zealand’s TV-3 identified him as Benjamin Pere Nathan.

The Maori, who make up about 15 percent of New Zealand’s population of 3.6 million, have a variety of grievances. They are the poorest and least privileged of New Zealand’s peoples.

No one paid much attention to the young man dressed in a suit, shirt and tie who visited the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron on Friday and politely asked to see the Cup, as thousands had before him.

He ascended a flight of stairs to a wood-paneled room, with picture windows overlooking Auckland Harbor and the bridge, where the Cup was displayed in a showcase.

New Zealand is an open, trusting society, so there was no security guard in the room as the man suddenly pulled a short-handled sledgehammer from a bag slung over his shoulder and attacked the trophy case.

Heise said the ``Maori gentleman″ was ``in a frenzy″ and chanting in the ``Maori language″ during the brief onslaught.

The man repeatedly smashed at the armored glass casing until it broke open, and tried but failed to get the Cup out of the broken cabinet. He then tore off his jacket and shirt to reveal a T-shirt emblazoned with Maori sovereignty slogans, police and witnesses said.

Nearby building workers grabbed the man, who was cut by broken glass.

He was arrested, and will appear in court Saturday to face criminal damage charges, which carry a maximum penalty of two years in jail

Police said the 27-year-old Maori man was a student who lives in Manurewa, Auckland’s poorest neighborhood, home mainly to Maoris and Pacific Islanders.

``We’re appalled and disgusted and shocked that this could happen here,″ Heise said. ``The Cup has been very, very badly beaten up.″

Heise said the middle of the silver Cup was crushed.

Team New Zealand became only the second crew in 144 years to take the America’s Cup away from the United States when the black boat with the silver fern logo, called ``Black Magic,″ completed a 5-0 victory over Dennis Conner’s Young America syndicate off San Diego on May 13, 1995.

Sir Peter Blake, who masterminded the Team New Zealand challenge, was devastated by the attack.

``I’m sickened and saddened,″ he said.

Danny Tumahi, spokesman for the local Ngati Whatua tribe that lives in the Auckland waterfront area, said the assailant was not known to his group.

But as a representative of the local Maori, he apologized to Blake and the people of New Zealand for the attack, saying, ``We don’t understand such things. We are very sorry about what happened here.″

New York Yacht Club Vice Commodore George Isdale said, ``We’re deeply dismayed. We are extremely sorry for the Royal Yacht Squadron, Commodore Heise and the New Zealand people.″