Japanese detain two anti-whaling activists, deny abuse claims

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

An image released by the Institute of Cetacean Research depicting Zodiac boats throwing something to back their claim that they were attacked by acid bottles.
An image released by the IRC to show the detained men drinking tea.

Yesterday at 6:00 UTC at 60° S 78° E , a Japanese whaling ship detained two Sea Shepherd Conservation Society activists in the Southern Ocean. Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research (IRC) deny Sea Shepherd claims that they have been abused. The Japanese government has assured the Australian Government the release of the men.

According to the conservation agency Sea Shepherd, Australian Benjamin Potts, 28, a helicopter assistant, and Briton Giles Lane, an engine room worker, were detained on board a Yushin Maru No. 2 after delivering a letter asking the ship to exit Antarctic waters .

Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd's vessel, Steve Irwin, said that the Japanese "tried to throw them overboard, then they tied them to a bulkhead and were beating them".

He alleged that the men were tied to the radar masts before being brought below deck after which the men were not seen. Sea Shepherd's international director, Jonny Vasic, claimed that they were "basically strapped by the arms with zip-ties and tied with rope around their chests" for 2½ to three hours.

The captain said he was surprised as he expected Japanese whale ships to treated his men more decently.

"We are concerned but I know the Australian and British governments are in touch with the Japanese government."

Sea Shepherd said it has photographic evidence that the whalers were abusing the men.

However, the Japanese ship refuted the allegations.

“Any accusations that we have tied them up or assaulted them are completely untrue,” Director-general of the IRC Minoru Morimoto said in the press release, “It is illegal to board another country’s vessels on the high seas."

Detaining the activists was the "only way", he said. "You couldn't have them running around the deck not knowing what they're going to do."

He said that the activists were making attempts to entangle the screw and were throwing bottles of butyric acid, as rancid butter, onto the deck of the vessel before boarding the vessel. Mr Watson has confirmed this and said that they were to act as a stink bomb but their actions were still peaceful.

Hideki Moronuki, the chief of the whaling section of The Fisheries Agency of Japan, claimed that "nobody took violent action against the two illegal intruders".

Mr. Moronuki said that they were treated "very, very humanely" and were provided with "a warm, delicious hot meal", "[a] warm, nice bath" and "[a] nice bed with clean white sheets".

Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith said that the Japanese government promised him the release of the men late yesterday night.

"Late last night I was advised the Japanese had agreed to this and they had instructed the relevant whaling ship to return the men to the Steve Irwin," he told ABC radio.

Mr. Moronuki said the "two illegal intruders" will not be released by the vessel's captain until "Paul Watson has accepted the conditions of the safety of the Japanese vessel". He said he knew nothing of the comments that the Japanese government agreeing to release the men.

Mr. Watson said the Japanese were "[holding] hostages and make demands" and were acting like "a terrorist organisation". A press release said Sea Shepherd "will not negotiate with poachers and demands that the Japanese whalers release Benjamin Potts and Giles Lane as soon as possible".

Mr. Watson said he would not send a zodiac to collect the men as requested in an email because it "endangers the life of the crew, to put them out in these waters in a small boat, 10 miles out of view".

On Sky TV, IRC spokesman Glenn Inwood said Sea Shepherd were "not answering phone calls or emails at this stage" to take advantage of "fair amount of media coverage" but they were "still making attempts to contact them".

An Australian Federal Police spokeswoman said that Sea Shepherd made a police report at around 7:00 UTC.


Sources

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