Distracted by Strategy

Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
On Board the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin

Sara Holden from Greenpeace has described the Sea Shepherd boarding of the Yushin Maru No. 2 as a distraction. She neglected to mention what it was a distraction from.

But nonetheless it is a curious comment coming from an organization that every year does the same thing and has accomplished little except to raise tens of millions of dollars to save the whales without actually saving any.

What Sara forgets is that I have been fighting this whale war since 1974, probably before she was born and I'm not exactly a novice on strategy. She also forgets that she works for the organization that I co-founded and that I personally created the idea of blocking harpoons with zodiacs in the first place and it was a tactic that worked a generation ago but has had little success in recent years.

A movement requires a constant renewal of strategies and tactics and it needs new ideas, new actions and innovative dramatic interventions. The Sea Shepherd strategy is one of provocation. It is our objective to provoke the Japanese whalers and it is our objective to escalate the conflict. At the same time we continue to exercise precautions to ensure that no one is injured.

Is our strategy working or is it merely a distraction as Ms. Holden states and if so what is it distracting from? The most important development is that for 10 days not a single whale has died at the hands of the Japanese whalers.

Greenpeace claims that it was because the whalers were running from them. This is curious since the whalers have never run from Greenpeace before. Usually it is business as usual as Greenpeace runs about in little boats holding up banners and playing daredevil with harpoons.

The truth is that the Nisshin Maru was running from the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin. Glen Inwood, the spokesperson for the whalers said so himself. Glen Inwood, the official New Zealand spokesperson for the Japanese whaling says Greenpeace claims of a victory in the Southern Ocean are false. Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research says the fleet has simply moved to prevent injuries.

According to a New Zealand radio spokesperson, Glenn Inwood says the real trouble will begin when a ship from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society catches up with the whalers.
- New Zealand Radio

The Nisshin Maru headed northwest for nearly a thousand miles with Greenpeace on their trail while the rest of the fleet waited and were re-supplied by the Oriental Bluebird on the 60 Degree South line of latitude.

I deduced that they might sit just above this line to refuel so as to not violate the Antarctic Treaty restrictions on refueling at sea in the treaty zone. So as Greenpeace took off on a chase to nowhere with the Nisshin Maru we set out along the 60 degree line until we hit the rest of the fleet. And just as soon as we encountered the rest of the fleet and engaged in a confrontation with the Yushin Maru No. 2, the Nisshin Maru did a 180 Degree turn and headed back to come to the assistance of the fleet.

If Greenpeace wishes to tell their members that they chased the factory ship away then they are free to do so but the Nisshin Maru demonstrated that they were not being chased away when they simply turned around and came back. Their attempt to draw anti-whaling boats away from the rest of the fleet had failed when the Steve Irwin found the fleet.

I made the decision to send two volunteers onto the Yushin Maru No.2 in order to escalate the situation and to provoke an international incident. It was a successful strategy and the Japanese fell for it completely. The smartest move for them would have been to return the two crew immediately. Instead they held onto them and in effect were holding an Australian and a British citizen hostage on the high seas and then to make themselves look even worse, they issued demands for their release appearing more like terrorists than whalers although there is little difference between the two.

They did everything that we anticipated they would do. The result was international media coverage and the Steve Irwin's Sat phone did not stop ringing for 36 hours as we fielded calls from Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Europe, Britain, Brazil and Canada. The pictures and video clips of the boarding went global.

As my old friend the late Robert Hunter would have said, "That was one hell of a successful mind bomb Paul."

The Los Angeles Times ran the following:

The high seas showdown sent shudders through the Japanese and Australian governments, which have a close partnership on trade and security issues but find themselves on opposing sides of a whaling dispute in which middle ground is evaporating.
-           Los Angeles Times, January 19, 2008

And more importantly the Los Angeles Times reported the following:

But both sides agree that this year's clash has been animated by more fevered emotion than usual. While publicly demanding the Sea Shepherd stop "harassing" its ships, some Japanese officials have been privately horrified by how the financially insignificant whaling industry has cast a pall over Japan's relations with some of its closest partners, Australia and the U.S.

"This is doing no good for Japanese diplomacy," said an official who requested anonymity because his comments conflicted with Japan's official position. "Many people are saying Japan is not balancing its interests, with a vocal minority dictating a course that risks some of our most cherished relationships."
-           Los Angeles Times, January 19, 2008

I created Sea Shepherd to be a shock troop type of organization and for three decades we have championed marine wildlife species with a firm understanding of our limitations under the law and an equally firm understanding of our limitations in the court of public opinion. That is the reason that after thirty years, we have not ever been convicted of a felony. We don't enter a situation without having our legal strategy in place.

And there is only one unacceptable tactic that would turn public opinion against us and that is causing death or injury to another human being. There has never been an injury or death caused to any person in Sea Shepherd's entire history. Our record in this regard is unblemished.

Therefore we can laugh off ridiculous charges of eco-terrorism, piracy, extremism or other names our critics throw at us. It does not matter what people call you, it only matters what you can be convicted of. An opinion carries no legal consequences, it's just an opinion and everyone has opinions.

The Sea Shepherd approach is somewhat akin to applying an acupuncture needle. We stick it in to get a response. Boarding a Japanese whaler is such a case in point and being an eco-acupuncturist requires a combination of imagination, courage and a sense of humor and audacity.  Needless to say we are quite pleased with the response to this last week's probing.

The objective now is to keep the whales alive day by day and to search for another opportunity to provoke tensions in order to continue to cast worldwide disapproval against illegal Japanese whaling activities.

So what Sara Holden calls a distraction, we call strategy.