Fear and Loathing in Cape Town - From Fighting Whalers in Antarctica to Fighting Bureaucrats in South Africa

Commentary by Paul Watson
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

After more than three decades of activism on the high seas, I have learned one very important fact about interventions against illegal whaling, sealing or fishing: Ocean-raping criminals have plenty of friends in high places and they have plenty of friends in bureaucratic government offices around the world.

For thirty years, I have skippered Sea Shepherd ships and I've been going to sea all my life. I have commanded hundreds of high seas voyages and I've had the helm through hurricanes, trans-oceanic voyages, and through ice-packs. From the top of the world to the bottom and around the equator and most places in between.

But all of the hurricanes, icebergs, canals, shallows, and passages are a pleasure compared to the nonsensical, arrogant, illogical, and ignorant harassment routinely suffered by port parasites who exist seemingly for no other reason than to be an obstacle and a nuisance to a mariner.

Of course, we should have expected some harassment. It comes with the turf. Whenever we do an ocean passage, we enter a new port with relatively little hassle. And whenever we confront whalers, sealers, or poachers on the sea we are invariably given the complete treatment of abuse, harassment, and wrath of the petty bureaucrats.

After 50 days of chasing and intervening against illegal Japanese whalers, we found ourselves heading to the nearest port. That port was Cape Town.

Cape Town is a wonderful place. The people are friendly and the scenery is incredibly beautiful.

We entered Cape Town as heroes for battling the pirate whalers in the Southern Oceans but it was not long until the bureaucrats tried to shut us down.

Upon entry, we were told that no one would be allowed ashore until the next day and possibly four days because we did not have a security certificate. This is a requirement of commercial vessels only.

The Farley Mowat is registered as a Canadian pleasure craft - a yacht.

Even the Paranoid States of America does not ask us to produce a security certificate.

The next morning the ship was boarded by Customs and Immigration and by the South African Marine Safety Authority. The inspector was Captain Modak. He informed me that they had received a request from the Canadian Department of Transport to check specific documents. He refused to show me this request in writing.

He said that I was required to have a Safety Inspection Certificate, a Manning Certificate, and a Security Certificate.

I replied that these certificates were not required for a Canadian yacht. He answered that he did not care and that I had to provide the certificates or else the ship would be detained until the certificates were provided.

The problem is that Canada will not issue these certificates for a yacht.

The next day, Captain Modak said that in his opinion the ship was a commercial vessel and had to comply with SOLAS requirements. When we said that our certificate of registry stated that the vessel was a pleasure craft, Captain Modak said that under South African law he had determined that the vessel was a commercial ship because it was to large to be classified as a yacht. Of course, there are many yachts larger than ours.

The problem is that if South Africa classifies us as a commercial vessel and Canada has us registered as a pleasure craft, the certificates required for a commercial vessel cannot be issued by Canada to a yacht. This translates into making it impossible for us to satisfy the demands for compliance in order to lift the detention order.

When the ship was in Melbourne and Hobart, Australia, there was no request for these certificates. The ship arrived and departed from Australia without any problem.

When the ship was in Wellington, New Zealand in November, we had no problem.

In June and July 2005 the ship was in Jacksonville, Florida, and these certificates were not requested by the U.S. Coast Guard.

In March 2005, the ship was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to oppose the Canadian seal hunt and we were harassed then by the Canadian Department of Trade because they asked us to produce an IOPP Certificate and a Tonnage Certificate. We had previously been told they were not required for a yacht by the Canadian Registrar of Shipping. Now they were. We responded by having the vessel surveyed and the two certificates issued by Canada. In other words, we complied immediately.

At that time, Canada did not request a security certificate or a safety inspection certificate because they knew that such certificates were issued to commercial vessels only.

What South Africa is now asking for we would gladly comply with if it was possible for us to do so. I can apply to Canada to issue these certificates but they will not because they cannot issue these certificates to a yacht.

I have met with the Canadian Consulate in Cape Town and he is looking into this.

In the meantime, we are being forced to pay a large daily fee for an inadequate dock and we are forced to pay for a 24-hour independent security guard.

I have also been informed that Japanese whaling ships have entered the port in the recent past and have quietly taken on fuel and provisions despite a South African law that prohibits the port from allowing any vessel connected with whaling to enter. If this is a fact, then there is certainly a double standard in play and it indicates that Japan has the ability to pull strings in the Port of Cape Town.

We would like to get a waiver to allow us to move the ship to Hout Bay, but Captain Modak refuses to allow us to go to Hout Bay because Hout Bay is not a recognized security port and vessels requiring a security certificate cannot use ports not authorized to receive vessels that require a security certificate. We as a yacht do not require a security certificate but Captain Modak insists that we do because in his opinion, contrary to our Canadian certificate of registry the Farley Mowat is a commercial vessel and not a yacht.

I think that the reason this is happening is because Japan believes we are trying to refuel and resupply so that we can return to the Southern Ocean to harass them again and they are pulling strings to have us delayed in Cape Town.

One thing for sure is that none of this makes much sense, but then against the nonsense of bureaucracy has never made much sense to me. These are people who speak a different language of doublespeak where meanings get obscured with excessive nonsensical chatter and where impossible demands can be made because power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely and petty bureaucrats survive by presenting an illusion that their jobs actually mean something and that people should actually listen to their pettiness as if their opinions were ordained by the Almighty.

Another thing that I've learned over the years about dealing with bureaucrats is to not get overly worked up or angry with them. That's what they want.

So, we will sit it out until it dawns upon Captain Modak that what he is asking for is impossible and you can't put a square peg in a round hole meaning he can't demand paperwork for a class of vessel for which the registry does not fit. A yacht is not a commercial vessel.

The Farley Mowat is not a ship that is operated for profit.

It is not a ship that is involved in any commercial engagement. We don't carry cargo or passengers. We don't fish or survey for oil. We don't operate whale watch tours. We don't take people out diving.

A yacht is a vessel operating for recreation and pleasure. In our certificate of registry we are described as a pleasure craft.

And what we do is at our pleasure. We are volunteers. Some people go fishing for pleasure. We harass outlaw fishermen for pleasure. Some people go whale watching for pleasure. We go watching for whalers for pleasure. Some people go hunting for pleasure. We hunt whalers and sealers for pleasure. In fact, I derive a great deal of pleasure from defending marine life on the high seas.

And thus the Farley Mowat is a genuine pleasure craft.

So, what does one do when placed in an impossible situation by bureaucrats? I'm certainly not going to give them the pleasure of stressing me out, irritating me, or making me mad.

Instead, I think we will take some pleasure in watching something truly mysterious and unique - a study of the bureaucratic mindset. Perhaps a little digging is in order. Follow the money, see who's pulling the strings. Just another incredibly fascinating close encounter of the bureaucratic kind. We may as well take advantage of being in Cape Town to investigate just what business whaling ships do when they come to this port.

And we might investigate just what it is that motivated Captain Modak to decide to call a yacht a commercial vessel when the certificate of registry states that the ship is a yacht. He seems to value the importance of certificates yet rejects the most important certificate of them all - the Certificate of Registry.