February 17, 2010

Activist Boards Whaler Ship In Protest

Officials said Tuesday that an anti-whaling activist from New Zealand is in custody on a Japanese vessel and will be taken to Japan to face charges after secretly boarding the ship as part of a protest.

U.S. activist Peter Bethune jumped aboard the Shonan Maru 2 from a Jet Ski on Monday with the stated goal of making a citizen's arrest of the ship's captain and presenting him with a $3 million bill for the destruction of a protest ship last month.

According to Fisheries Agency official Osamu Ishikawa, Bethune will be brought to Japan for questioning.  Ishikawa said he will be charged with trespassing and assault and tried under Japanese law.

Officials were working out the details of how to transport Bethune to Japan, Ishikawa said. 

Bethune is a member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has had other recent protest escalations lately to hamper Japanese whaling activities.

Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research said Bethune used a knife to cut the vessel's protective net to enable his boarding and that he told whalers he then threw the knife into the sea.  The institute, which sponsors the whale hunt, said the crew treated him for a cut on his thumb as he was on board.

Japanese law says that intruding on a Japanese vessel without legitimate reasons can bring a prison term of up to three years, as well as a fine of $1,100.

Fisheries Ministry official Toshinori Uoya said Bethune was being held in a room by himself with guards posted outside.

Murray McCully, New Zealand Foreign Minister, said it seemed that Berthune's intention was to be detained aboard the ship, but his country had an obligation to try to help him and was seeking cooperation from Japanese diplomats.

McCully met with Japan's ambassador Tuesday, while New Zealand's top diplomat in Japan met senior officials on Monday.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said that Bethune demanded the cost of replacing the Ady Gil, which is an activist ship he captained that was destroyed in a collision with the Shonan Maru 2 last month, and the surrender of the whaling ship's captain on attempted murder charges.

Although there were only minor injuries, the Ady Gil sank after the collision.

Japan has six whaling ships in the Antarctic waters under its scientific whaling program.  The ships hunt mostly minke whales, which are not an endangered species.

The Sea Shepherd sends ships out each year to block the whalers from firing harpoons and dangling ropes in the water to try to snarl the Japanese ships' propellers.  The whalers fight back by firing water cannons and sonar devices meant to disorient the activists.


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