Anti-whaling activist boards Japanese vessel to make citizen’s arrest for destruction of boat

By Tanalee Smith, AP
Monday, February 15, 2010

Whaling protester secretly boards Japanese boat

ADELAIDE, Australia — An anti-whaling activist jumped off a speeding Jet Ski and climbed aboard a Japanese vessel in the frigid Antarctic Ocean on Monday to attempt a citizen’s arrest for the destruction of a protest ship last month.

The brazen move was another escalation by the U.S.-based Sea Shepherd activist group meant to hamper the whaling activities of the Japanese.

Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research, which sponsors the whale hunt, confirmed activist Paul Bethune was on board the Japanese boat. The institute called the boarding illegal and a “publicity stunt,” and said it is the Sea Shepherd activist who will be held accountable.

Bethune planned to hand over a bill for $3 million, the cost of replacing the Ady Gil, an activist ship he captained that was destroyed in a collision last month. He also wanted to make a citizen’s arrest of the captain of the Shonan Maru 2 for the Ady Gil’s destruction, and the attempted murder of six Ady Gil crew members, according to a Sea Shepherd statement.

Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson said Bethune will demand the Shonan Maru 2 captain surrender to Sea Shepherd, or take his ship to the nearest Australian or New Zealand port to turn himself in to authorities.

Watson said Bethune left another Sea Shepherd boat, the Steve Irwin, at 6 a.m. on the Jet Ski to approach the Japanese boat, which was moving at 14 knots. The Jet Ski driver maneuvered into position below anti-boarding spikes, and Bethune jumped onto the Shonan Maru 2, the statement said.

The Institute of Cetacean Research said in a statement the Japanese whalers did not have a means to return Bethune to his ship.

“What he (Bethune) has just done is an illegal act” under maritime law, institute spokesman Glenn Inwood told The Associated Press. “Worst case scenario, he will be taken back to Japan.”

However, Donald Rothwell, a professor of international and maritime law at the Australian National University, said Bethune’s boarding was not illegal under international law, unless he planned to do harm to the crew or imperil the safety of the Shonan Maru 2. Merely making a demand or presenting a letter and a bill did not constitute terrorism or piracy.

Tetsuro Fukuyama, Japan’s state secretary for foreign affairs, called the incident “regretful.”

“We yet have not clarified his (the intruder’s) intention,” Fukuyama said. “Once we confirm the fact and nationality of the ship he belongs to, we would post strong protest and urge them to take an appropriate action.”

Japan has a six-vessel whaling fleet in Antarctic waters as part of its scientific whaling program, an allowed exception to the International Whaling Commission’s 1986 ban on commercial whaling. It hunts hundreds of mostly minke whales, which are not an endangered species. Whale meat not used for study is sold for consumption in Japan, which critics say is the real reason for the hunts.

The Sea Shepherd sends vessels to confront the Japanese whaling fleet each year, trying to block the whalers from firing harpoons and dangling ropes in the water to try to snarl the Japanese ships’ propellers.

The whalers have responded by firing water cannons and sonar devices meant to disorient the activists. Collisions have occurred occasionally, including the Jan. 6 collision between the Sea Shepherd’s high-tech speedboat Ady Gil and the Shonan Maru 2 that caused the Ady Gil to sink. There were only minor injuries.

The governments of Australia and New Zealand, which have responsibility for maritime rescue in the area where the whale hunt is usually conducted, have repeatedly urged both sides to tone it down.

On Monday, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key called the latest Antarctic activities “downright dangerous.”

“These people are operating in Antarctica, where if you land in the water and (remain) there for more than about 12 minutes, you’ll be dead. I don’t really think its terribly sensible, that kind of behavior,” Key said.

Associated Press writers Ray Lilley in Wellington, New Zealand, and Eric Talmadge in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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