Three Decades of Living Dangerously

Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
Founder and President of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

"Give me a fair ship so that I might go into harm's way."
- Captain John Paul Jones

Recently, the former Sea Shepherd ship's doctor Scott Bell from Tasmania was interviewed on an Australian radio station where he was critical of the safety and medical conditions onboard the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin. Dr. Bell had other motivations for being disgruntled, one of which was he disagreed with Sea Shepherd's modus operandi  and tactics which prompted our first officer Peter Brown to reply to him that he should have known what to expect if he had read the crew application or even a Sea Shepherd membership brochure.

Dr. Bell said on the radio that he was opposed to the boarding of the Yushin Maru No. 2 because it was unsafe.

Of course it was unsafe. It is no secret that Sea Shepherd ships sail into harm's way and the crew take risks to defend and protect marine wildlife. That is what we do.

In fact many of our confrontations and maneuvers are decidedly unsafe. Our up close and personal confrontations with the whaling ships have been close encounters of the dangerous kind.

When volunteer Sean Willmore complained that our tactics were unsafe, we suggested that he take off his crew shirt and read the list of vessels we have sunk and rammed.

Yes we confess - what we do is unsafe, it is reckless, it is dangerous and it may even be called fool hardy but what we do saves the lives of countless numbers of marine animals.

When our critics tell us that it is foolish to risk our lives and health to protect animals, I can only respond that it a far more noble thing to take these risks to protect living sentient creatures than to fight for real estate or some oil company's interests in Iraq.

This does not mean that we are unprepared, and it does not mean that we have not studied the situations clearly for tactical, strategical and safety consequences.

Our activities and comments from a few former crewmembers has led to some concerned inquiries from the media about safety and our abilities to address emergencies onboard our ships. Most of this was initiated recently by former crewmember Sean Willmore who was overly paranoid about every aspect of shipboard life that he actually held meetings with crewmembers to convince them that they were in an unsafe environment.

Of course they were! A ship at sea is by its very nature an insecure environment. Anything can happen at anytime. I should know.  I was a rescue officer with the Canadian Coast Guard where I saw plenty of accidents, recovered numerous bodies and I personally witnessed three deaths onboard Norwegian merchant ships I once worked on.

I told Mr. Willmore and two other crew members who were constantly complaining that the situation was easily resolved. If they did not feel secure then they should not come back to sea with us.

Although we deliberately put our ships into harms way the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has never had a crewmember experience a serious injury since we first put to sea in 1979.

This does not mean we are not adequately prepared to deal with emergencies. In fact we are overly equipped and overly qualified for dealing with emergencies especially for a ship of the size and class of the Steve Irwin.

During Operation Migaloo, we always had a medical doctor on board and in the second part we also had two qualified paramedics in addition to the doctor. We have the equipment, supplies and drugs to deal with most life threatening situations ranging from hypothermia to emergency surgeries. Onboard the Farley Mowat which is now at sea we have a medical doctor on the crew.

During Operation Migaloo we had a dedicated safety officer and two scheduled safety drills each week. We have lifeboat capacity for four times our numbers. We have a surplus of life-jackets, survival suits, immersion suits, drysuits and wetsuits. We have a fully equipped rescue boat. We have first aid kits deployed at stations around the ship. We have four times the number of fire extinguishers, adequate fire hoses and breathing gear. We also have fireproof fire fighting suits and our engine room has a CO2 extinguishing system.

In our small boats we have VHF radios, a Sat Phone, GPS and emergency flares and rations.

The Steve Irwin has a fully equipped dive locker which enables us to do underwater repairs to the hull.

In addition to a medical doctor and two paramedics, our crew included a professional fire-fighter, a master welder, an electrician, mechanics and a number of trained seamen.

As master, I have taken Sea Shepherd vessels on more than 250 ocean going voyages without mishap. I have navigated my ships through ice-packs, around icebergs, through hurricanes, through heavy traffic in shipping lanes, passages through reefs, through canals and up rivers. In my professional judgment the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin is as safe as a ship can be and I would be hard pressed to make it any more secure than it is.

A couple of the crew have decided to take their complaints to the media. I find it amazing that people willingly sign onto a voyage after being fully briefed as to the dangers of going to sea, especially into remote and hostile waters, then they act surprised that they find themselves in a dangerous situation.

I guess its one thing to pose as a hero and another thing to actually be a hero.

All I can say in response to complaints that what we do is dangerous is to say - yes it is dangerous, we know it's dangerous and unless you're willing to take the risks required of you for participating in a dangerous mission then you should stay safe and sound on land and watch what we do on television.