Sea Shepherd Officers Plead Not Guilty In Canadian Court

Captain Alexander Cornelissen, 40, of the Netherlands and first officer Peter Hammarstedt, 23, of Sweden, entered not guilty pleas on July 2nd in the Sydney, Nova Scotia court.

Both men did not appear in court. They were represented by Nova Scotia attorney Guy LaFosse. "They plead not guilty today to coming within a half-mile of the sealers that were hunting that day," Mr. LaFosse said.

"I'm not going to tell you the basis of my defence, that will come out at trial, but certainly the Crown has indicated that it's going to take a lengthy period of time to have it tried, so by the time we present all the evidence, we'll need eight days for sure."

Judge David Ryan said getting an eight-day block in his busy provincial court schedule is a problem, so he ordered Mr. LaFosse and Crown attorney Theresa O'Leary to return Monday, July 7th so another judge can be chosen to hear the case which will likely be next summer.

Canadian and international fishing and trade laws are expected to form part of the evidence when the case is presented, officials said.

The two officers were charged on April 12, 2008 after the Farley Mowat, allegedly came too close to sealers in the ice-packed Gulf of St. Lawrence on March 30 and again April 11-12 according to the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The black uniformed heavily armed RCMP boarding party attacked and seized the ship and  towed it to Sydney harbour, where it remains today, under twenty-four hour guard at the expense of the Canadian government.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is billing the Canadian government $1,000 per day for every day that the government illegally holds the ship that they seized in a blatant act of high seas piracy.

Sea Shepherd has not made application to have the ship returned. In May, a judge in Sydney provincial court rejected a Crown application to have the court order the society to pay a $50,000 bond for its return.

"We will not pay a ransom for the return of our ship," said Captain Paul Watson. "Loyola Hearn is a pirate and he ordered our ship taken in international waters and that will be the basis of our defense and we will not acknowledge the government's argument of legality by paying bail to release a vessel the government had no legal authority to take."

The court case is not expected to be heard until the Spring or Summer of 2009.