The Price We Pay for Saving Wildlife
Commentary by Alex Cornelissen
There are many of us in the environmental movement that have been arrested and even incarcerated for protecting life. Often our only crime is having the audacity to stand up against countries blatantly committing crimes against nature in favor of their economies.
Despite many laws and treaties in place to protect habitats, species and nature in general, enforcement of these pieces of legislation is often lacking or even non-existent.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is a law enforcement agency that upholds international law on the high seas; we do so legally within the context of internationally accepted regulations. We are doing the work that governments around the world should be doing but seem unwilling or unable to do. It is apparently not a priority to protect areas outside their economic jurisdiction, as there is no short-term political or financial profit to be made by this course of action. This is where Sea Shepherd comes in.
For the most part governments are quite happy we do, as our actions allow them to avoid the problem of doing so and yet they see positive changes that come from our interventions. Except of course for the countries we expose for breaking international law; they will stop at nothing to deter us.
What we are presently experiencing with Captain Watson is a clear attempt of one nation’s government to try to stop people and/or organizations that have exposed their illegal activity. It is by now crystal clear that the Japanese government is responsible for the attempts to get Captain Watson extradited to Costa Rica and no doubt from there to Japan.
Let’s face it. Costa Rica had long forgotten about a case where previously convicted shark poachers (the same ship and crew were arrested for illegal fishing in the Galapagos Islands in 2001), accused Captain Watson of allegedly being responsible for someone slipping and breaking their finger. The incident in question dates back to April 2002, but the case was never really pursued until President Chinchilla of Costa Rica paid a visit to Japan late 2011.
It seems we have clearly angered the Japanese government. Good. I can guarantee we will anger them a lot more when we shut down the Japanese whaling fleet for the third year in a row during our upcoming Operation Zero Tolerance, because that we WILL do.
Sea Shepherd has faced numerous attempts over the years from governments trying to intimidate us or trying to stop us from defending our oceans.
Just speaking from my personal experience:
November 2003: Arrested in Taiji, Japan, together with Allison Lance for freeing 15 dolphins from certain death in the Cove.
Charged with: Interfering with Commerce.
After the arrest, we were intimidated and threatened with long jail sentences. For 23 days the Japanese police tried to get us to testify against Captain Watson and Sea Shepherd, but we simply took full responsibility for our own actions and were eventually released after paying an $8,000 fine.
What followed was worldwide knowledge of Taiji’s dirty little secret, highlighted in the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove.
Obviously, the Cove in Taiji has since become the arena of increasingly hostile attempts from the Japanese government, rightwing nationalists and greedy fishermen against our Cove Guardians.
Last season Cove Guardian Erwin Vermeulen, from the Netherlands, was arrested for allegedly pushing a dolphin trainer. For months he was threatened and intimidated to admit being guilty of physical assault. Obviously Erwin held his ground and refused to admit to the fabricated charges and endured his time in jail unfazed by the threats.
Our fight in Taiji is intensifying but it is clear we are slowly but steadily gaining ground. We are now getting increasing worldwide attention, leading to increasing protest and public outrage. We are targeting the captive dolphin industry; they are responsible for the demand that sustains drive hunts like in Taiji. Also under investigation are the airlines that offer transportation to captive dolphins. But most importantly the Japanese public is becoming aware of what goes on in the killing cove and resistance within Japan is growing.
March 2005: Arrested with ten other activists during the Seal Campaign in Eastern Canada. The Canadian government was increasingly hostile and frustrated by our presence during the annual slaughter of seal pups.
Charged with: Witnessing the slaughter of seal pups without having the required permit (Seal Protection Act, which in fact is in violation of the basic human right, freedom of movement).
Despite the fact that prior to the arrest some of us were assaulted by the sealers, none of them were ever charged because our presence had invoked the violence.
Our images of seal pups being brutally massacred by, quoting Captain Watson: club-wielding, knuckle-dragging, and cigarette-smoking apes, was enough to show the world that the hunt, that many thought belonged to the past, was still very much alive.
April 2006: In my first act as a Sea Shepherd captain, sailed our ship the Farley Mowat out of Cape Town Harbor, South Africa. Our ship had been tied up four months after our second Antarctica campaign against the Japanese whalers. The vessel was being held on a catch-22 and negotiations with the South African authorities were not going anywhere.
Instead of wasting time and money fighting a politically motivated attempt to slow our efforts against illegal Japanese whaling, we simply left. We subsequently acquired a new ship (now the Steve Irwin) and returned for the third and to date most successful campaign against illegal Japanese whaling.
April 2008: Again arrested, this time together with chief officer Peter Hammarstedt during the Seal Campaign in Eastern Canada. Once again our presence was causing the Canadian government a serious image problem.
Charged with: Witnessing the slaughter of seal pups without having the required permit.
This time we had our vessel boarded by an armed RCMP tactical unit. Their entry was so forceful that the thought of someone getting injured or worse was quite real. Imagine, we were only taking pictures, but there are clearly more similarities with war zones than solely the blood on the ice.
Despite all the efforts to continue this subsidized massacre and to prevent the world from knowing what really goes on during springtime in Eastern Canada, Sea Shepherd made a great contribution to ending this so-called hunt. In 2008, Europe banned the import of Canadian seal parts (skins, oil, etc) effectively eliminating the market. The Canadian government continues to set ridiculous quotas but the actual death toll is dropping rapidly. No doubt soon, the subsidies alone will no longer be able to cover the costs.
Captain Watson has made a sacrifice. His efforts to uphold international law have angered the government of a country that presumes to be above the law. Captain Watson stands firm in the notion that Sea Shepherd must defend the species that need our protection, despite having to face seemingly impossible odds. After all what can we do against a government so powerful as the Japanese? Actually, we can do a lot. Our history shows we HAVE taken on seemingly undefeatable opponents and we HAVE emerged the winner.
The Japanese government and corporations like ICR and Fish & Fish, can continue throwing SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) cases against us but we will NOT be intimidated, censored or silenced; on the contrary, this has only deepened our resolve. It is abundantly clear the Japanese government is worried, very worried about how effective we have become.
It may seem that a red notice is a serious hindrance for Captain Watson and Sea Shepherd, but justice will prevail. Captain Watson is someone who has sacrificed and at the same time accomplished so much. He has dedicated his life to saving our oceans, with unwavering honesty and loyalty. He knows better than anybody that this fight is not about us. It’s not about who we are and what we do. It is about the wildlife we save and the species and ecosystems we protect. Simply put, it’s a fight for the very survival of life on this planet. Captain Watson has implanted these beliefs in the hearts and minds of many of us. As our army of volunteers and supporters continues to grow, every government of every nation will come to realize that the force and will of the people are on our side.