CIRONNEAU/ASSOCIATED PRESS Canadian Captain Paul Watson, right, founder of the
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, speaks with Makah Indian Elder Jeff Ides,
from Washington state, in front of the environmental whale protection ship Sea
Shepherd in the harbor of Monaco. Captain Watson and Sea Shepherd members are
not allowed to participate at the meeting of the International Whaling
Commission opening Monday in Monaco. Watson flies the Jolly Roger from his ship
and boasts of ramming more boats than any living seafarer, part of an
anti-whaling crusade that even Greenpeace calls too radical.
anti-whaling captain says
call me a pirate, not an eco-terrorist
BY ROD MCGUIRK
Australia- Toronto-born anti-whaling activist Paul Watson flies the jolly Roger
from his ship and boasts of ramming more boats than any living seafarer, part
of an anti-whaling crusade that even Greenpeace calls too radical.
Watson and his group came under withering criticism this
season, summer in the Antarctic, for tactics that some say put the lives of
whales above the lives of people.
A Japanese whaling ship
caught fire after being chased and harassed by Watson's fleet, the ships and
volunteers of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which not only rammed the
whaling boats but fired smoke canisters and ropes to entangle the propellers.
Japan announced Wednesday that it was ending its whaling
season early because of the fire, which killed a crewman. Although the blaze
came a day after Watson's group pulled back for lack of fuel, and there's no
alleged connection, Japan calls Watson a terrorist.
the 56-year-old activist, who founded the society 30 years ago, dismisses the
"Call for a boycott of tuna fish these days
and they call you a terrorist;' he said.
Watson has spent
his adult life as a conservationist, beginning with Greenpeace, which itself
has a strident reputation. The turn to radicalism came, he says, when he made
eye contact with a harpooned whale as it rose above his dinghy before falling
back into the sea.
"Paul recognized a flicker of
understanding in the dying whale's eye. He felt that the whale knew what they
were trying to d o," the Sea Shepherd w ebsite says.
society bought a ship with donate money in 1979, allowing members to disrupt
seal hunting in eastern Canada. Later that year, the group rammed its ship into
a whaler in a Portuguese harbour, and the pattern was set. Sea Shepherd claims
responsibility for ramming six whaling ships and for playing a part in 10
others going out of the whaling business.
Watson says his
whatever-it-takes tactics threaten lives no more than whaling itself. He points
to the Japanese whaling factory ship Nisshin Maru, which was crippled in
February for 10 days in ice-strewn Antarctic waters after the fatal
"I think the Japanese are extremely reckless taking
a floating factory down to a pristine and fragile ecosystem with the potential
of causing a major oil and chemical spill and of course killing endangered
The Nisshin Maru and its five
support ships were Sea Shepherd's main targets this whaling
Sea Shepherd's attack ships, the Farley Mowat and
the Robert Hunter, circled the Japanese factory ship, dispensing Zodiac
inflatables into the heavy seas for the close-in attack.
Society volunteers used nail guns to fasten plates over
the Nisshin Maru's drain outlets, which spill whale blood into the sea.
The attack ended when one of the Zodiacs cracked its hull
in a collision with the Japanese ship and the Zodiac's two crew members,
Australian Watson Karl Neilsen and John Gravois of Los Angeles, became lost for
more than seven hours in heavy fog and falling snow.
Julie Farris, a 27-year-old American volunteer, said the
hours of searching were tense and scary after the Robert Hunter's helicopter
couldn't take off to search for the missing men because of the snow and fog.
Soon after the two men were found, the Robert Hunter
discovered a Japa nese spotter ship among the sea ice and tried to snare its
propeller before the two ships collided. Other tactics include hurling smoke
and stink bombs at the whalers' decks.
"These are not
mere acts of sabotage, but literally an attack. We call these an act of
terrorism but I don't think it is an exaggerated phrase," Hajime Ishikawa,
deputy director of the Japanese government-linked Institute of Cetacean
Sea Shepherd is at an extreme fringe of a
movement that has broad popular support. Most whaling opponents distance
themselves from the group's tactics.
"We don't think
violence is the answer," Greenpeace spokesman Shane Rattenbury said. "If you
are conducting violent action, the discussion becomes about the violence, not
New Zealand and Australia - leading
anti-whaling countries - condemn Sea Shepherd's tactics as an unacceptable
threat to human life.
The International Whaling
Commission cancelled Sea Shepherd's accreditation as a non-government
organization after it claimed responsibility for sinking two Icelandic whaling
boats in Reykjavik harbour and the wrecking of a meat processing factory in
In this photo released
by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society,
their ship Robert Hunter, left, is
seen as it shadows Japanese ship
Nisshin Maru in the water of Antarctic in
this 2006 pho to.
Lou Sanson, chief
executive Antarctica New Zealand, the government agency responsible for that
country's operations on the frozen continent, said tactics like those of Sea
Shepherd increase the risk of damaging the fragile Antarctic environment.
"It's a dangerous enough environment to be operating in
as it is without building in the additional risk of ramming ships," he said.
But Watson dismisses Greenpeace - an organization he
helped found in 1971 before a falling out - and other mainstream conservation
groups as "feel good corporations:' He also insists the UN World C har ter for
Nature gives him legal authority to save whales by sinking or disabling whaling
He has repeatedly been the target of legal
action, but says he has never been convicted of a felony. He was convicted in
absentia by Norway and sentenced to 120 days in prison on a charge related to
the 1992 sinking of a whaling ship. He spent 60 days in Dutch custody, but they
refused to extradite him to serve out his sentence. The society boasts
volunteers from 14 countries, who endure cramped and barely sanitary
Aboard the 677 tonne Farley Mowat, the crew
of 21 shares just two toilets and some of them have to sleep in linen lockers
for lack of space. On the 1,017-tonne Robert Hunter, limited fresh water means
one brief shower every three days for the 33 crew members.
Japan has called on governments with Antarctic territory
- including Australia, New Zealand and the United States - to do more to stop
Sea Shepherd attacks. But exactly who has jurisdiction, what can be done under
the law and how to collect evidence for prosecutions isn't clear.
Australian Justice Minister Chris Ellison warned that "if
they were to call into an Australian port, they could well face the
consequences of Australian law, if they have breached it." But Australian
police are not investigating Sea Shepherd ships that are docked at Melbourne.
"I've probably rammed more boats than any person alive,"
said Watson, though he says he hasn't rammed a whaler since 1992. He said
collisions he was involved in this season and last were the whalers' fault. The
whalers say otherwise.
"I've never seen a whale die since
I started Sea Shepherd in 1977 and we've never hurt anyone by effectively
preventing this crime," Watson said.