Australia denied visas for Captain Paul Watson and 1st officer Peter Hammarstedt two years ago. After a two-month delay, 25,000 Australian signatures on a petition, and the assistance of former Australian Environment Minister Ian Campbell and Tasmanian Senator Bob Brown, Peter and Paul were finally granted visas. No reasons were given for the denial or the delay.
Now it appears that Australia is seeking to keep the Sea Shepherd helicopter grounded by denying a visa to our veteran helicopter pilot. Australia has also refused to send a government ship to the Southern Ocean to keep the peace in the Australian Antarctic territorial waters and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
Captain Paul Watson spoke personally to Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke while attending the Australian Antarctic Expedition’s 100th year anniversary dinner in Hobart on December 1st.
Captain Paul Watson: Mr. Burke will you be sending a ship to keep the peace this year?
Tony Burke: That’s not going to happen.
Captain Paul Watson: I think it would be the responsible thing for Australia to do considering the potential threat from the whalers who have indicated they intend to be far more aggressive this season.
Tony Burke: Look, Japan requested that we send a ship to protect their ships from you. If we turned them down it’s only fair that we deny your request also.
Captain Paul Watson: Well, except for one thing. Our ships carry Australian citizens on our crew and we will be in the Australian Antarctic Territorial waters and it is your duty to protect Australian waters and Australian citizens.
Tony Burke: (shakes Captain Watson’s hand) It’s nice to meet you and stay safe down there.
Captain Watson said after that conversation, “I wonder what the Minister will say if the Japanese injure any Australian citizens in Australian waters? I think this is grossly irresponsible of the government to refrain from due diligence in keeping the peace. Australia has stated that Japanese whaling is illegal and they recognize that it is being carried out in waters claimed by Australia. They know that Australian lives will be at risk and yet they refuse to get involved.”
The denial of the visa for Chris Aultman is another indication of the Australian government’s hostility towards Sea Shepherd’s opposition to illegal whaling.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has received overwhelming support from the people of Australia. Unfortunately, the government of Australia does not reflect that support. This is the same government who promised just prior to election that they would take a tough stand against Japanese whaling.
UPDATE - Dec 8, 2011: Visa granted to Chris Aultman. Thank-you Senator Bob Brown.
Sea Shepherd helicopter pilot, Chris Aultman, has been granted a visa to enter Australia, Australian Greens Leader Bob Brown said today. "I thank Immigration Minister Chris Bowen for his swift response to my request as to why two Sea Shepherd crew members were denied visas to enter Australia. Sea Shepherd's Chris Aultman and Tim Pierce, helicopter pilot and mechanic respectively, have both successfully applied before for visas to Australia. Mr. Pierce is expected to be able to also join his colleague in Australia," Senator Brown said. "The Japanese Government is sending a patrol boat from it's Fisheries Agency to 'strengthen the protection' of whaling ships as they illegally hunt whales in Australia's territorial waters. Japan has also taken tens of millions of dollars out of tsunami relief funds to help finance the whale killing fleet heading to Antarctica. I have serious concerns that the presence of the patrol boat may escalate tensions when Sea Shepherd tries to protect the whales the Japanese ships are slaughtering. The Australian Government must have a plan in place to ensure safety as the Sea Shepherd fleet prepares to leave Australian ports to defend hundreds of whales from Japanese whaling ships," Senator Brown said.