The innocuous-sounding Sea Shepherds have waged a violent campaign of sabotage and operated a pirate vessel within Australian waters. And their backers include Hollywood A-list celebrities.
Saving the whales. Hardly a radical notion these days. It’s probably also a fair call that Australian public opinion stands against whaling, especially when carried out within our territorial waters.
But what should the public think of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a radical environmentalist movement making frequent media appearances for disrupting Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean?
Only in recent days have the facts begun to emerge about this outfit, namely that their tactics are unorthodox, to say the very least. The full truth might be a wake-up call to journalists and politicians who treat the Sea Shepherds and their “Captain” Paul Watson as reputable animal-lovers.
A “steel enema”
A recent collision between the Japanese sighting vessel Kaiko Maru and Sea Shepherd ship Robert Hunter left each side blaming the other, but it prompted Watson to threaten a Japanese whaler, the Nisshin Maru, with “a steel enema”. “They would have to go back to Tokyo with us sticking out of their rear end,” said Watson.
That Watson is willing to sacrifice his own ship, the Farley Mowat, to do this should come as no surprise. The Farley Mowat’s Canadian registration was cancelled last year and a short-lived flag of convenience from Belize was also revoked in January, leaving the ship a pirate vessel, now apparently low on fuel.
Furthermore, the Sea Shepherds have quite a history of using this tactic. They have reportedly sunk at least 10 ships already off Iceland, Norway, Spain, Portugal, South Africa and the Canary Islands. Many of these were said to have been rammed by concrete-reinforced steel hulls, complete with an attachment known as the “can opener”.
Other past tactics are said to have included the throwing of butyric acid on board decks (including those of the Japanese), gunfire, and - through subsidiary organisations established by Watson - the scuttling of ships in dock and the spiking of over 20,000 trees. (This last, seemingly unconnected, activity is acknowledged by Watson, despite the fact that a Californian mill-worker nearly had his jugular vein severed when his blade hit a spike.)
The Japanese, quite understandably, have blasted the Sea Shepherds as terrorists and have called on the United States to declare them as such. In the most recent incidents, the crew of the Kaiko Maru claimed to have had smoke bombs hurled on board and nets thrown into their propeller. Their collision with the Robert Hunter led to their issuing a distress call - answered, ironically, by the Sea Shepherds. The Japanese, again quite understandably, turned down their offer of assistance.
That these “pirates” and “eco-terrorists” exist in 2007 is one thing. But what truly is strange is, first, the fact that governments, media and others treat them seriously; and, second, that they receive support from many high-profile figures.
On the first point, Watson has apparently backed down from his “steel enema” threat following a phone conversation with New Zealand Conservation Minister Chris Carter. But he is still being reported in reasonable terms by most media and even had school groups visit his ship while docked in Melbourne recently.
In terms of high-profile support, readers would probably be shocked to discover that many of Sea Shepherd’s advisory board members are apparently well-known celebrities. These include Linda Blair (The Exorcist), Pierce Brosnan (a former “James Bond”), and James Cromwell and Martin Sheen (West Wing).
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