On January 6, 2010, Captain Hiroyuki Komura of the illegal Japanese whaling vessel the Shonan Maru #2 deliberately rammed and destroyed Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's vessel, the Ady Gil. Captain Komura almost killed six Sea Shepherd volunteer crewmembers and did not respond to the Ady Gil's mayday distress signal. Japanese authorities refused to cooperate in investigations and declined requests by Australian and New Zealand maritime authorities to question Captain Komura.
Instead, Captain Peter Bethune, the man who Captain Komura almost killed and whose ship was destroyed, was taken back to Japan literally as a prisoner of war abducted from the waters of the Australian Antarctic Territory. Captain Bethune was incarcerated for boarding the ship that had rammed and destroyed his ship, when he had every right to board that vessel to confront Captain Komura face-to-face for his crimes.
Captain Komura should have been the man on trial. He was not, because in the waters of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, might--rather than the law--makes right, and Captain Bethune was taken back to Japan to be made an example of and persecuted for defending the whales.
The verdict of the Japanese court was always to be "guilty." Sea Shepherd was never under any illusion that Captain Bethune would be given a fair trial. In court, there was no discussion of the reason why Captain Bethune boarded the Shonan Maru #2, and Captain Komura was not called as a witness; in short, the court never allowed any evidence of the Ady Gil's destruction to be heard.
Sea Shepherd spent in excess of half a million U.S. dollars on Captain Bethune's defense, not because we believed he would be acquitted, but in an attempt to mitigate his sentence.
Captain Bethune was facing up to fifteen years in prison. He was sentenced to two years and he will be deported back to New Zealand on July 9th with his sentence suspended.
Captain Bethune's mission was successful. His efforts helped save the lives of 528 whales. He was able to take one of the harpoon vessels off the hunt when it was forced to return him to Japan. Most importantly, he exposed the brutality and illegality of the Japanese whaling fleet to the world. When you're willing to risk your life to save the whales, five months as a Japanese prisoner is a good trade-off for the lives saved.
Captain Bethune is a hero to the Save the Whales movement and he will be welcomed home to New Zealand as a national hero for having the courage to do what his government was fearful of doing--defending whales from the Japanese poachers in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
Global support for Captain Bethune and negative publicity about Japan's whaling program has led to this success. With Captain Bethune, the Japanese government was well aware that each day it held him would be a day that would generate protest against its abominable whale slaughter. This fact, coupled with protests over the showing of the Academy Award winning film "The Cove," has helped to make the whale and dolphin slaughter the most embarrassing foreign affairs issue currently scandalizing the Japanese government.
The Japanese court acknowledged that Captain Bethune never intended to hurt anyone and was operating under his conviction to save whales from illegal whaling. The truth is that Japan wants Captain Bethune out of Japan and with the sentence suspended they can quickly send him home.
Sea Shepherd is proud of Captain Bethune's achievements and satisfied with the results of this ridiculous trial that saw a man incarcerated for saving the lives of whales, yet ignored the crimes of a Japanese poacher who sank a ship and almost killed six conservationists.
Captain Bethune is free, and that is what matters. Sea Shepherd is free to return to the Southern Ocean again to defend the whales, and we intend to be even more effective next season than during our last highly effective season.
Captain Bethune is an inspiration in courage and dedication, and his efforts, his sacrifice, and his resolve will not be forgotten.
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