Japan arrests New Zealand anti-whaling activist for illegally boarding Japanese vessel

By Shino Yuasa, AP
Friday, March 12, 2010

Japan arrests whaling activist for boarding ship

TOKYO — Japan’s coast guard arrested an anti-whaling activist from New Zealand on Friday for illegally boarding a whaling ship last month in the latest incident in the ongoing battle over Japanese whaling.

Peter Bethune, a member of the U.S.-based Sea Shepherd activist group, is accused of jumping aboard the whaling vessel from a Jet Ski on Feb. 15 in Antarctic seas, where Japan was conducting its annual whale hunt.

Boarding a Japanese vessel without legitimate reasons can bring a prison term of up to three years or a fine up to 100,000 yen ($1,100).

Japan’s annual whale hunt is allowed by the International Whaling Commission as a scientific program, but opponents call it a cover for commercial whaling, which has been banned since 1986.

Sea Shepherd, among its critics, aims each year to stop Japanese whaling activities. The activists trail whaling boats and try to disrupt the hunt by dangling ropes in the water to snarl the ships’ propellers and hurling packets of stinking rancid butter on the whaling ships’ decks.

The whalers have responded by firing water cannons and sonar devices meant to disorient the activists.

Sea Shepherd said Bethune jumped aboard the Shonan Maru 2 to make a citizen’s arrest of its captain and hand over a $3 million bill for the destruction of a high-tech protest ship Bethune captained, the Ady Gil, that sank in January after colliding with the whaling ship. Since his boarding, Bethune has been in custody aboard the ship while it made its three-week voyage back to Japan.

Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson criticized the arrest.

“They are putting a man on trial whose ship they sunk and they almost killed in the Australian Antarctic territory,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “It seems to me that people in New Zealand and Australia should be very, very concerned about this.”

Dozens of Japanese camera crews were waiting by the dock for the ship’s arrival Friday in Tokyo port, where about 10 right-wing protesters held up signs branding Bethune an “eco-terrorist.”

“Anyone who has done wrongdoing will have to face severe punishment in accordance with the law,” Fisheries Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu told reporters.

Bethune was to meet a lawyer and a New Zealand diplomat later in the day. New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said Bethune would receive the consular assistance that is routinely provided to New Zealanders arrested overseas.

Coast Guard officials said Bethune was closely monitored while on the whaling ship but was not in solitary confinement and that he ate the same food as the whalers. Sea Shephers only serves vegan meals, but the whalers’ diet includes meat, officials said.

Whale meat isn’t widely eaten in Japan, but is available in some restaurants and stores.

Officials have two days to interrogate Bethune before handing him over to prosecutors to decide whether to press formal charges against him, said coast guard spokesman Masahiro Ichijo. He said authorities are also considering additional allegations, including assault and destruction of property.

Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Rohan Sullivan in Sydney contributed to this report.

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