Sea Shepherd's Captain Pete Bethune Given Suspended Sentence by Japanese Authorities


photo: Barbara Veiga / Sea Shepherd

Pete Bethune, captain of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's now-sunken Ady Gil, has been given a two-year suspended sentence for boarding the whaler Shonan Maru #2 in an attempt to make a citizen's arrest of the captain for attempted murder and deliver a bill for the cost of the sunken ship. WATCH VIDEO - Whale Wars: The Ady Gil

Additionally, Bethune was found guilty of assault for throwing a bottle of rancid butter aboard the whaler, and has been banned from entering Japan for the next five years. Bethune will be deported back to his native New Zealand on July 9th.

Bethune, who has been in Japanese custody since the incident occurred in February and pleaded guilty to the charges of trespassing, vandalism and possession of a knife last month, told New Zealand's 3News that he had hopped to receive a suspended sentence but was "very nervous" ahead of sentencing and hoped to go home soon.

Japanese Whaler Captain Should Have Been on Trial: Sea Shepherd
Responding to the sentence, Sea Shepherd (which is the focus of the docu-drama Whale Wars on Animal Planet, owned by the same parent company as TreeHugger) issued a rather lengthy statement. Here's a quote that really gives a glimpse at the complexity of the situation:

On January 6, 2010, Captain Hiroyuki Komura of the illegal Japanese whaling vessel the Shonan Maru #2 deliberately rammed and destroyed Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's vessel, the Ady Gil. Captain Komura almost killed six Sea Shepherd volunteer crewmembers and did not respond to the Ady Gil's mayday distress signal. Japanese authorities refused to cooperate in investigations and declined requests by Australian and New Zealand maritime authorities to question Captain Komura.

Instead, Captain Peter Bethune, the man who Captain Komura almost killed and whose ship was destroyed, was taken back to Japan literally as a prisoner of war abducted from the waters of the Australian Antarctic Territory. Captain Bethune was incarcerated for boarding the ship that had rammed and destroyed his ship, when he had every right to board that vessel to confront Captain Komura face-to-face for his crimes.

Captain Komura should have been the man on trial. He was not, because in the waters of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, might--rather than the law--makes right, and Captain Bethune was taken back to Japan to be made an example of and persecuted for defending the whales.

Why Was There No Investigation of the Original Collision?
Let's ignore the legality or illegality of Japan's claimed to be scientific (but also commercial, in practice) whale hunt, and the ethicality of hunting creatures which probably should be granted non-human person status and rights in this case.

If Bethune's boarding the whaler--which certainly was done knowing his arrest was the likely outcome--was an act of trespassing and legally questionable, the failure of Japanese authorities to cooperate in an investigation of the collision between the Shonan Maru 2 and the Ady Gil is also highly questionable. Regardless of fault, the collision of two vessels at sea certainly warrants questioning of all parties and likely would've occurred in virtually any other circumstance.

Japan Resisted Temptation of Making Bethune a Martyr
From the start, there was a decided push to make an example of Bethune. Statements from the Japanese Fisheries Ministry early on bear this out, as do statements from Sea Shepherd, but the Japanese court didn't bite.

Bethune was facing 15 years in prison for all charges. If he was given the full sentence he would have instantly become a martyr (if you can become a martyr while still alive) or at least a kind of ecological political prisoner. A symbol of struggle at the least. It would have played directly into the hands of Sea Shepherd, which has become increasingly effective in its harassment of the whaling fleet--last year their actions cut the Japanese catch in half.

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More on Sea Shepherd:
Japan Arrests Sea Shepherd Activist After Boarding Ship, Trying to Deliver Bill for Sunken Ship
Sea Shepherd Harassment Cuts Japanese Whale Catch in Half
Sea Shepherd's Ady Gil Sinks, After Bow Cut Off by Japanese Whaling Ship
Sea Shepherd Saves 800 Endangered Bluefin Tuna From Poachers - With Rotten Butter

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