Whaling activist arrested by Japan

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Japanese Coast Guard has arrested an anti-whaling activist of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for "vessel invasion" after he boarded a Japanese whaling ship last month in the Southern Ocean.

The activist, Peter Bethune, from New Zealand, boarded the Japanese ship, the Shonan Maru 2, on February 15, and presented the captain of the ship a bill for $3 million in damages incurred when the Japanese vessel collided with and sank the Sea Shepherd trimaran Ady Gil. Immediately after boarding the vessel, Bethune was detained by the Japanese crew and held on board the ship for a month before it returned to Japan, where he was arrested by a waiting Coast Guard delegation and placed into custody in Tokyo.

The arrest has generated great publicity in Japan, where public opinion is generally in favor of whaling, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is consistently criticized. Japan's whaling program, which the government says is a part of Japanese culture, results in the killings of around a thousand whales annually in hunts that the government claims are for scientific research. Activist groups such as Sea Shepherd, however, say that the program is a cover for commercial whaling, banned worldwide in 1986.

A member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Paul Watson, captain of another anti-whaling vessel, said that he thought the arrest of Bethune would provide greater support for their actions. He said that although the group has not been in contact with Bethune, he expected that his actions would make him an "international hero", particularly in his home country of New Zealand.