During last season’s Southern Ocean whale hunt Sea Shepherd activist captain Peter Bethune illegally boarded a Japanese whaling vessel. Bethune’s ship, the Ady Gil, had sunk following a collision with a Japanese ship and Bethune attempted to hand the Japanese captain an arrest warrant. He was immediately taken into custody and faced various charges.

In the course of the trial it was found that Bethune took four “lethal force” bow and arrows down to the Southern Ocean. In reply to the find, Sea Shepherd dumped Bethune for breaching their no weapons policy.

Sea Shepherd deputy CEO Chuck Swift said the bow and arrows revealed to be in possession of Bethune were “absolutely not in line” with the organisation’s policies. “His decision to bring them on a Sea Shepherd campaign is unacceptable,” said Swift.

Bethune’s trial finished last week with the activist found guilty on five charges and receiving a suspended two-year sentence. He immediately flew home to New Zealand. On the day of the sentencing Captain Paul Watson told New Zealand radio that Bethune was “certainly welcome back [to Sea Shepherd] in the future.”

Asked about the change in attitude Watson said that the appearance of of cutting Bethune adrift was only a legal strategy during the trial to avoid unwanted criticism.

So, what are we to make of this public skiting by Watson?

The first implication is that Sea Shepherd are advocating the use of violence. Despite the organisation apparently having a no weapons policy it willingly chose to ignore it. That the breach of rules came from the captain of a ship is even more alarming. On a boat, where space is a premium, he carried four lethal weapons. This was not disputed by either Bethune or Sea Shepherd.

Last month the Dalai Lama criticised Sea Shepherd for its violent tactics. Despite supporting their goal of ending whaling, the Tibetan spiritual leader rebuked the organisation for its increasing use of violence. Watson, in a statement on the Sea Shepherd website, was unrepentant.

Watson, who was himself cut adrift from Greenpeace when he couldn’t uphold the peaceful end of their moniker, has shown an amazing lack of judgement by going on air and welcoming back Bethune. Even if it was a deliberate stratagem why tell the media? It reeks of braggadocio and may come back to haunt Sea Shepherd.

You can be sure that any prosecuting lawyer will remember those remarks and turn them back around on the activist organisation in the likelihood of future trials. That’s one defence tactic no longer available.

Watson is currently preparing for the upcoming whaling season, which begins in late November and violence looks assured. “We suspect it will be more aggressive,” he said.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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