Sea Shepherd FAQ

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

In response to accusations of piracy by the Japanese whalers due to the boarding of the Yushin Maru No. 2 by two Sea Shepherd crew members on January 15, 2008, Captain Paul Watson, Founder and President of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society responds with answers to some Frequently Asked Questions.

Question No. 1
Did Sea Shepherd Commit Piracy?
The Japanese have accused Sea Shepherd of piracy and there has been talk about charging crew members Benjamin Potts and Giles Lane with piracy for boarding the Japanese whaling vessel to deliver a letter from Captain Watson to the captain of the Yushin Maru No. 2. Will this happen?

Captain Paul Watson: It is not likely. It would be amusing if they did. Both Giles and Ben laughed at the suggestion. I've been accused of piracy so many times that I've lost count. Because I ordered the men to board the Japanese whaler, the piracy charges would actually be directed at myself but like them, I'm not worried about any charges. First because there is a question of jurisdiction? Where would such charges be laid? I can't see Australia charging us with piracy and we have no plans to visit Japan in the near future. Secondly it is a charge that would not hold up.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea defines piracy as:

(This is an excerpt from Section VII  titled "High Seas")

Article 101 Definition of piracy

Piracy consists of any of the following acts:

(a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:

(i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;

(ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;

(b) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;

(c) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).

As the captain of the Steve Irwin I sent two of my crew onboard the Japanese whaler Yushin Maru No. 2 with a letter addressed to the Japanese captain.

Question No. 2
Greenpeace accuses Sea Shepherd of being a violent organization. Is this a valid?

Captain Paul Watson: Our record speaks for itself. In 30 years of operations the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has never caused a death or a single injury. We have never been convicted of a felony.

Yes we have sunk whaling ships, rammed whalers and drift netters, boarded poaching vessels and destroyed equipment used for illegal exploitation of the oceans and we believe that these are valid tactics.

Martin Luther King once wrote that violence can not be committed against a non-sentient object. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has given Sea Shepherd a letter of support in praise of our record of non-violence.

In fact Greenpeace supported Sea Shepherd actions when we rammed and sank the pirate whaler Sierra in 1979. The article about the Sierra ramming was written by me as the cover story on the Greenpeace Chronicles in September 1979. I was co-founder of Greenpeace International in October 1979 after this incident with the Sierra.

Greenpeace has worked with the group Earth First! and that group participates in ecotage i.e. the destruction of logging and construction equipment.

So why does Greenpeace separate itself from Sea Shepherd? The answer lies more in politics than tactics.

As a co-founder of Greenpeace, I along with most other of the original members have been marginalized by the bureaucrats who now run Greenpeace. We are a threat to their leadership and especially a threat to their revisionism.

The vision and the passion that helped create Greenpeace are not welcome today in Greenpeace the corporation where the bottom line is to increase contribution revenues by presenting a wide appeal and taking measures to not be overly radical or to offend possible donors.

The truth is that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is more non-violent than Greenpeace. Greenpeace has suffered a few deaths and numerous injuries over the years due to not taking proper precautions. No sea Shepherd crewmember has ever been injured.

But the most significant testament to Sea Shepherd's superior record of non-violence is the fact that Sea Shepherd ships do not serve meat, fish, eggs or dairy products to the crew. The ships are vegan ships and not a single animal suffered or is killed to feed the crew. Greenpeace ships serve meat, dairy products, eggs and fish. Greenpeace posted a You Tube video of Greenpeacers eating whale meat in Japan to demonstrate they are not opposed to whale as part of Japanese cuisine. So who is more non-violent? Vegan Sea Shepherd crewmembers or steak and fish eating Greenpeace crewmembers?

Question No. 3
Is Sea Shepherd willing to cooperate and work with Greenpeace?

Captain Paul Watson: The answer is yes. Sea Shepherd policy is to work in cooperation with anyone willing to work with us. We believe that strength lies in diversity of tactics and strategies.

We once worked with Greenpeace and I have attempted to work with them for years but they consistently refuse. It makes practical sense for the two groups working to stop illegal whaling in the Southern Oceans to work together.

Last year when Sea Shepherd found the whaling fleet first we gave the coordinates to Greenpeace. This year we also gave the coordinates to Greenpeace. This year we offered to share our helicopter with Greenpeace. They refused and they refused to reciprocate by providing coordinates to us. It's been very frustrating. Sea Shepherd works in partnership with the Galapagos National Park rangers and the Cocos Island National Park rangers. We work in partnership with the Ecuadorian National Police and with the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States. We work with numerous non-governmental organizations.  And we would like to work cooperatively with Greenpeace. The fact that we do not is not our choice - the decision was made by Greenpeace to refuse cooperation.

Question No. 4
The Japanese whalers accused Sea Shepherd of not returning their calls and intentionally prolonging the holding of Sea Shepherd crewmembers as hostages so as to prolong the story. Is this true?

Captain Paul Watson: Our crew requested to leave as soon as they delivered the letter. This request is included in the letter. The Japanese captain of the Yushin Maru No. 2 made a huge public relations error when he decided to hold the two crew as hostages. They could have been released at any time. The decision was with the Japanese whalers to do so.

There was not a single call from the Japanese government to the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin during the time the men were held hostage. The Sea Shepherd office in Friday Harbor did receive demands from the Institute of Cetacean Research  as conditions for releasing the crew. I did not respond to these demands because issuing demands while holding hostages is extortion. We responded to the Australian government by saying that the release must be unconditional.

Did Sea Shepherd take advantage of the situation to get publicity? Of course we did. This incident brought the issue of illegal Japanese whaling to the attention of the world. That is an objective that is part of our mission.

Question No. 5
Some journalists have asked why we do not accept that the Japanese whaling program is a legitimate scientific research program?

Captain Paul Watson: We do not accept it as a legitimate scientific research program. First because it is not science and secondly because it is not legal.

The Japanese Institute for Cetacean Research has not published a single peer reviewed scientific paper concerning the so called "research" they are doing in the Southern Oceans. If there is any research involved it is marketing and product development research.

The International Whaling Commission has condemned the program as bogus research. Targeting endangered species in a whale sanctuary in violation of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) ban on commercial whaling is illegal under the Convention of Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and under the regulations of the IWC.

In addition the killing of whales is banned in the Australian Antarctic Territory by order of the Australian courts. In response to critics who say that the Japanese whalers are just trying to make a living, I can only say that elephant poachers, drug dealers and arms dealers are also just trying to make a living. Making a living is not a justification for committing a crime. Science is not a justification for committing a crime.

Question No. 6
Sea Shepherd has been accused by the Japanese whalers and Greenpeace of being an eco-terrorist organization?

Captain Paul Watson: We get called many things by many people but it's all really just name calling.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has never had a crewmember convicted of a felony crime. We are not wanted for any crime anywhere in the world. There are no criminal charges pending against us. It's all just rhetoric and name calling and nothing to take seriously.

I myself am not restricted in my travels and I do not have a criminal record.
We have never injured a single person nor have we ever intervened against a lawful enterprise. We only oppose illegal activities as defined by international law.

Our advisory board includes scientists, lawyers, journalists, and celebrities including the former Australian Minister of the Environment Ian Campbell, the former Vice Chair of the IWC Horst Klienschmidt, Naturalist Farley Mowat, actors Pierce Brosnan, Martin Sheen, Richard Dean Anderson and Sean Penn.

None of these people would be supporting us if we were a "terrorist" organization.

Question No. 7
Sea Shepherd flies the Jolly Roger, the pirate flag. Are you pirates?

Captain Paul Watson: We get called pirates, and it is an accusation that does not bother us much. In fact we kind of like it. First there is the romantic appeal of swashbuckling pirates and kids love the image, they love our flag and logo.

Secondly we do consider ourselves pirates of compassion in pursuit of pirates of greed.
There is sometimes a need to be a pirate if for nothing else because sometimes pirates are needed to stop pirates.

Back in the 17th Century when piracy was raging out of control in the Caribbean, it was not the British government or the British Navy that shut down piracy. Like politicians today, many were on the take and British merchants and even the crown had a vested interest in piracy. Piracy was shut down in the Caribbean by Sir Henry Morgan - a pirate.

The founder of the two greatest navies in the world - John Paul Jones was a pirate before creating the American Navy and then under contract to Catherine the Great forming the Russian Navy. Captain Jean Lafitte who stood with General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans was a pirate. Other famous pirates included Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake. Not bad company to be included in when you think of it.

So being called a pirate in this day and age is something of a romantic and colourful accusation and I don't have a problem with it.