Japan Charges Sea Shepherd Captain Bethune With Five Crimes

TOKYO, Japan, April 12, 2010 (ENS) – A New Zealand anti-whaling activist who boarded a Japanese whaling vessel in the Southern Ocean has been charged with five crimes, including trespassing, carrying a weapon and causing injury.

Pete Bethune, of the U.S.-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, boarded the Shonan Maru No. 2 February 15, intending to make a citizen’s arrest of its captain who rammed and sank Bethune’s vessel in January.

He was taken into custody, then was arrested and charged earlier this month after the ship returned to Japan.

The Sea Shepherd vessel Ady Gil (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd)

Bethune has been charged with vandalism, carrying a weapon, injuring a crewman and obstruction of passage of a vessel. He had earlier been charged with trespassing on the Japanese ship after boarding the vessel from a jetski. If found guilty, Bethune could be imprisoned for up to 15 years.

The incident occurred as Sea Shepherd activists attempted for the sixth year in a row to halt Japan’s annual whale hunt in Antarctic waters.

On January 6, Captain Bethune was at the helm of the Sea Shepherd’s ship, the futuristic catamaran Ady Gil, when the catamaran was run over, cut in two and sunk by the much larger Shonan Maru No. 2. The destruction of the Ady Gil endangered the lives of her six international volunteer crewmembers.

Captain Bethune’s response was to board the Shonan Maru No. 2 so he could confront the captain responsible for the destruction of the Ady Gil.

Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson says the charges are “bogus” and calls Bethune a “prisoner of war.”

“The very fact that the captain of the Japanese ship has not been questioned for the destruction of the Sea Shepherd vessel denies any civilian description of the Shonan Maru 2,” said Watson. “A civilian vessel would have been investigated and the captain questioned and charged for a felony offense. Even if the collision were an accident, the captain would have been questioned.”

The Shonan Maru No. 2 shoots water cannon at the Ady Gil before sinking the smaller vessel. (Photo by JoAnne McArthur courtesy Sea Shepherd)

“Only military officers are immune to questioning by civilian authorities and that is the case with this incident,” Watson said.

“Where are the charges against the captain of the Shonan Maru No. 2 for violently attacking the Sea Shepherd vessel Ady Gil?” asks Watson.

Captain Chuck Swift was commanding the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker and rescued the Ady Gil crew from the water after the attack in January.

“I watched the Shonan Maru No. 2 intentionally travel into and run over the Ady Gil, and thought my crew and I were going to be recovering injured and/or murdered crew,” said Swift. “It is astounding that Japan is prosecuting Captain Bethune while ignoring the many crimes of its own illegal whaling fleet – and shameful that the world is allowing it to do so unchallenged.”

The crew of the Shonan Maru No. 2 said the activists had tried to snare their propeller with a rope and had thrown butyric acid at the ship, giving a “chemical burn” to one sailor.

Sea Shepherd denies that Bethune caused injury and said the substance thrown was rancid butter that smells bad but cannot cause injury.

Watson says the Australian authorities should have investigated the incident because it took place in the waters of the Australian Antarctic Territory.

Only New Zealand Maritime Authorities have attempted to question the captain of the Shonan Maru No. 2, Watson said, but because Japan is not cooperating New Zealand authorities cannot proceed.

Captain Pete Bethune (Photo by JoAnne McArthur courtesy Sea Shepherd)

Watson describes Captain Bethune’s boarding of the Shonan Maru 2, saying, “He boarded a ship moving through frigid Antarctic waters at fifteen knots in the dark of night. He jumped from a jet ski to the harpoon vessel, slipped and fell into the sea, was picked up and attempted the boarding a second time, past sharp anti-boarding spikes and netting. He remained on the ship for nearly two hours until sunrise when he calmly knocked on the door of the wheelhouse and presented himself to the captain who sank his ship.”

Watson says the assault charge is based on an incident that was filmed by professional cameras and “clearly shows the whalers firing pepper spray into the wind and back into their own faces.”

“He has been charged with obstructing business despite the fact that the business he was obstructing is illegal under international conservation law and despite the fact that the whaling is supposed to be for research and not a business,” says Watson.

“He is being charged with damage to property for cutting a hole in a net to board the ship that destroyed our vessel valued at US$3 million, Watson said.

Watson points out that Bethune is charged under an obscure law called the Sword Control Law, the same law that Emperor Meiji introduced in 1865 to confiscate the swords from the samurai. The knife that Bethune used to cut the net to board the ship is being categorized as a sword.

A lawyer on Bethune’s defense team says the charges laid against him by Japan are “ridiculous.”

“Some of them we don’t even really know what the factual basis is,” said Seattle attorney Dan Harris.

Harris said the Japanese legal system has been tainted by politics, and appears to have given in to the whalers.

Watson says the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will help provide Bethune with the best legal defense possible, and stand by his family while he is a prisoner.

“What we will not do is retreat or surrender to the outlaw whalers,” Watson said.

“We are presently rallying our resources, raising funds, and preparing to return to the Southern Ocean next December,” said Watson. “I already have a dozen volunteers willing to board Japanese whaling ships next season, willing to be taken prisoner, and willing to sacrifice their freedom and risk their lives for the whales.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.