On January 17th, in a landmark decision, a Canadian judge agreed with Sea Shepherd that a ship is a legal residence of its crewmembers, and therefore, can come within a half a nautical mile of the seal hunt.
On March 31st 2005, 11 crewmembers from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ship Farley Mowat were arrested for the "crime" of approaching a seal hunt without permission of the Canadian Minister of Fisheries. Two months later, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) charged Captain Paul Watson for the same violation. All twelve defendants were placed on trial in November 2005. The verdict was delivered on January 17, 2006.
Defense attorney John Mitchell of Charlottetown argued that the crew had not committed a violation because the regulations allow for a citizen to be closer than one-half nautical mile of a seal hunt, if the hunt takes place within a half a nautical mile of the residence of the citizen. The defense argument was that the Farley Mowat was the legal residence of the crewmembers that were arrested.
The judge accepted this argument and acquitted Captain Paul Watson because he did not leave the ship. The other eleven crewmembers were found guilty of breaking the regulations because they had allegedly walked more than a half a nautical mile away from the Farley Mowat. The eleven crewmembers may be fined $1,000 each for approaching a seal kill without permission. Sea Shepherd intends to appeal these convictions.
The verdict establishes that this March, before the Government has time to change the regulations, any organization that opposes the slaughter of seals, including Sea Shepherd, may enter the area where seals are being killed with a ship because the ship is a residence for the people on board.
Sea Shepherd suspects that the DFO will seek new legislation to overturn this loophole but with the elections in Canada on Monday, January 21st, they likely cannot change the regulations before the start of this year's slaughter in March. "Sea Shepherd's history in opposing the seal slaughter has seen a steady erosion of our freedoms. Every time there is an opening to oppose the slaughter, the government enacts legislation to close that opening. The government of Canada does not want people to witness the cruelty against the seals and the violations of the sealers," said Captain Watson.
Three of the eleven crew (from Australia, Canada, Netherlands, Sweden and USA) arrested are presently on the Farley Mowat in the Southern Oceans opposing the illegal slaughter of whales by Japanese whalers. 1st Officer Alex Cornelissen, 2nd Officer Peter Hammarstedt, and Chief Cook Laura Dakin say that they have no intention of paying fines for the crime of witnessing a seal being slaughtered. "We will go to jail and we will conduct a hunger strike for the seals rather than give the Canadian government a single loony," said Alex Cornelissen.
The ruling does allow Sea Shepherd to return to the ice to protest the annual mass slaughter of seals. "I'll be back," said Captain Paul Watson. "I have been fighting this obscenity for over three decades and I shall fight it until it is ended or until I die. Nothing will ever convince me that there is any justification for the evil of sealing."
The 2006 seal slaughter will begin in March 2006. No quota has yet been set. More than a million seal pups have been viciously slaughtered between 2003 and 2005. It is the largest mass slaughter of a marine wildlife population in the world.
Learn more about Sea Shepherd's efforts to save seals.
Read about the charges against Captain Paul Watson.