Whale Wars: Sea Shepherd Watson threatens citizen arrests, says donations pouring in

After a collision with a Japanese whaler that led to the sinking of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Societies Ady Gil last week, the group's leader Paul Watson threatened "citizen's arrests" and said the incident had been a fund-raising boon.

JoAnne McArthur/Sea Shepherd Conservation Society/AP
This photo shows the sheared off bow of the Ady Gil, foreground, a high-tech speed boat that resembles a stealth bomber after a collision with a Japanese whaling ship in the frigid waters of Antarctica on Jan. 6.

Paul Watson, the self-styled ecological pirate whose Sea Shepherd Conservation Society lost its fastest boat , the Ady Gil, after it tangled with a Japanese whaling ship last week, is threatening to escalate the hostilities in the Southern Ocean.

"If Australia and New Zealand do not bring charges against the Shonan Maru, they leave us little choice but to go and arrest the vessel," The Australian newspaper quoted Mr. Watson as saying. "We will attempt a citizen's arrest on it and that will be a confrontation and whatever the consequences of that confrontation will be the fault of the Australian government for failure to act.

Watson's group has already filed piracy charges against the Japanese whaling fleet in a Dutch court, and the group says it's considering bringing attempted murder charges against the skipper of the Shonan Maru No. 2, a member of the Japanese fleet that runs security against the Sea Shepherds. The Sea Shepherds seek to insert themselves between whalers and their prey, and have in the past sought to foul the propellers of Japanese vessels with cables and used lasers to try to temporarily blind Japanese sailors.

Mr. Watson also said that donations have been flowing into his organization since the sinking of the Gil, a high-tech trimaran that circled the globe in a record 60 days, before being donated to the organization by a wealthy philanthropist of the same name.

Both Australia, which has responsibility for search and rescue operations in the area of the Southern Ocean where the collision took place and New Zealand, home to the captain of the GIl, have promised investigations into the incident. Deputy Australian Prime Minister Julie Gillard has appealed for calm from both sides, drawing a sharp rebuke from Japan,

The Australian reported that Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Australian Ambassador to Japan Allan McKinnon that Ms. Gillard's calls for restraint from both sides were inappropriate since "the Sea Shepherd itself was conducting the unlawful rampage."

Direct action by either Australian or New Zealand officials on the high seas is unlikely. The Japanese whaling fleet is operating under a "research" exemption allowed for by the international moratorium on global whaling, notwithstanding the fact that most of the meat taken ends up in Japanese stores and restaurants. Australia has said sending an observer vessel to the Antarctic whaling grounds would likely be counterproductive, by encouraging more provocative actions.

New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully has taken a harder line, telling Australia's ABC last week: "We've got New Zealand citizens that have clearly been behaving in a manner that has put life at risk," he said. "If they are going to go down there looking for trouble and determined to find it then there's nothing we can do to stop them, except urge them to improve their conduct." The Sea Shepherd group charged this amounted to New Zealand giving a "green light to Japanese whalers to kill Kiwis."

Watson's group has charged that the Maru deliberately rammed the Gil. The Japanese have said the collision was caused by anti-whaling activists. In an attempt to bolster their case, Sea Shepherd released video taken from onboard the Gil that it says was unedited and captures the moments before the collision.

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