By JAMES GARDINER
He flies a pirate flag but regards himself as an international maritime cop.
Captain Paul Watsons opponents call him a saboteur, a terrorist - and Watson doesn t deny he has sunk a lot of ships.
The Canadian co-founder of Greenpeace, who left to set up the direct action conservation group Sea Shepherd in 1977, is in New Zealand for the first time, planning an assault on Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean this summer.
"We re not a protest organisation, we re a policing organisation," Watson said.
He is skipper of the conservation society s flagship, the Farley Mowat, which has docked in Auckland and will sail south on December 15.
It is the first time Sea Shepherd has mounted a campaign in the Southern Hemisphere, where Japan s whaling ships kill between 400 and 600 minke whales each year for "scientific" purposes.
Watson s plan is to sail up to the fleet, tell them they are under arrest and to leave the area.
"If they don t we ll intervene and harass them."
If the fleet of one factory ship and about six faster harpoon ships remains, so will the Sea Shepherd, for up to two months.
Auckland police have visited the Farley Mowat.
"Their only concern when they came down was what our intentions were with the America s Cup, which we were sort of surprised at because we have no intentions with the America s Cup. "But I think they said that Greenpeace was protesting and they wanted to know if we were, too, and I said that was not why we were here."
Customs officers took some interest in an ancient cannon aboard the ship but were satisfied there were no cannon balls. It will be fired with powder only, to try to scare the whalers. Water cannon will also be fired on the whalers, and their ships could be threatened with the Farley Mowat s on-board "can opener", apparently capable of ripping open a ship s steel hull.
Watson believes in destroying whaling ships to protect whales but "in our entire history we ve never caused an injury."
He co-founded Greenpeace in 1972 after taking part in the protest against nuclear weapons testing in the Aleutians the previous year, and in 1975 he put himself between a Soviet harpoon and a whale off the coast of northern California.
Three other crew from the original Greenpeace protest will join the ship, which is still looking for volunteers for the voyage.
"We've had a lot of visitors and generally everybody's pretty positive. Most everybody seems to be in agreement that they don't like the Japanese killing whales down in Antarctica."