The Battle of the Lofotens
This is Captain Paul Watson's account of the incidents surrounding the conflict between the Sea Shepherd vessel, M/Y Whales Forever, and the Norwegian warship the K/V Andenes. (K/V stands for "Kystvakt", which means "Coast Guard" in Norwegian.)
I came on watch at 0400 Hrs, relieving the First Officer.
"Anything new?" I asked.
Bjørn looked tired. "No, the Andenes is still escorting us but she refuses to communicate."
The sun didn't set this far north this time of the year. I could see her clearly. She bristled with guns and weaponry. Norway was sparing no expense. The Andenes is her best warship.
"Get some sleep, Bjørn."
I walked over to the chart table. We were seventeen miles off the Norwegian coast. Our position was 66'42''N & 011'55''E.
By midday, we expected to be off the whaling station at Skrova. The Norwegians would make their move against us at that time. We were prepared.
The Norwegian Navy and government were worried. Our yellow submarine Mirage rested securely in her cradle on the aft deck of the Whales Forever. They knew that if we were given the opportunity to launch, the sub would be practically undetectable for two days. In 48 hours, the Mirage could locate and dispatch a couple of illegal whaling ships. They were also aware that if the submarine was under water, the whaling ships would flee like rats back to the relative safety of their ports.
Our objectives this summer were complicated but practical. We wanted to achieve the following goals:
1.To keep pressure on the insurance premiums for all whaling vessels. Because of us, each of Norway's 48 whalers had already been forced to pay an extra average annual premium of $3000 U.S. dollars each.
2.To see that Norway spent more on security, lobbying, and public relations costs than the whalers could make in profits from killing whales.
3.To goad Norway into over-reacting with hopes that an irrational response would embarrass the Norwegian government.
4.To publicize the issue of illegal whaling throughout the world.
5.To manipulate the Greenpeace Foundation and other mainstream groups into taking a more active role in whale protection.
I reviewed the objectives as we headed into Vestfjordur towards the whaling station still some fifty miles in front of us. Already, objective number 5 had been achieved. Greenpeace had dispatched two ships to the south of Norway while we continued to cruise north. Only a month before, they had decided not to actively protest against Norway. Objective number 2 was in motion, the Norwegian escort and shore surveillance was already costing money. Objective 4 had also begun with hourly interviews with Norwegian and other European media.
Map showing positions of M/Y Whales Forever on July 6, 1994. Times are GMT.
At 0550, I was startled to hear the radio squawk and a voice address us. "Whales Forever, this is the Norwegian warship Andenes. You have just entered Norwegian territorial waters. Please stop your ship, you are under arrest."
I took a quick check of the Global Positioning System (GPS), the radar, and the chart before picking up the transmitter.
"Andenes, this is the Whales Forever. We have not entered Norwegian waters. We are in international waters."
The Norwegian commander responded, "You have entered Norwegian territorial waters, stop your ship, you are under arrest."
I ignored him. Instead, I hit the alarm button signaling battle stations to my crew. Within minutes, all 34 crew and media representatives were on deck. The crew were manning fire hoses and the media prepared their cameras and tape-recorders.
Sea Shepherd cameraman Derek McCurdy from Canada took a position on top of the wheelhouse. L'Express Magazine photographer Marc Cleriot from France climbed the main mast. Outside Magazine photographer Marc Gaede took the starboard bridge wing.
The Norwegians continued to call us and I continued to ignore them. They had no authority over us in international waters, and without that authority I had no intention of submitting to them.
Without warning, the Andenes lurched across our bow and I saw the 200 feet of rope she was towing. We had anticipated this, she was attempting to foul our props. In Holland we had welded three triangular teeth to the bow and an additional dozen stainless steel cutting blades around the prop shafts. Still, it is best to avoid possible entanglement. I cut the main engines and threw the bow jet thruster hard to starboard, putting our stern as far from the ropes as possible.
The Norwegian warship circled us and cut across again. Again we were able to take evasive action and protect the props. After a third pass and a third successful evasive maneuver, the Norwegian commander was noticeably frustrated and angry. He came around our stern a fourth time, cutting much closer than before. He turned hard to port and made to cross the bow once again when I noticed he was still heeling far over to port.
On the top deck, Derek shouted. "He's going to ram us."
From my position at the bowthruster controls, I could see that he would, at this angle, take us midship and he was moving at 24 knots. He would certainly cut us in half if he hit us. I threw the bowthruster into full starboard and ordered the main engines throttled full in reverse.
This saved our ship but there was no avoiding contact. The Andenes ripped into our bow and the 3/4-inch thick steel hull collapsed and tore away like it was paper. Frederik Schelver from Norway had been standing directly on the spot only seconds before. Lisa Distefano was on the upper deck only twelve feet from the impact with Marc Gaede just behind her. They felt the heat of the collision as thick steel buckled, bent, and tore itself away.
The Whales Forever heeled far over to port as the Andenes roared past us like a runaway train. The jagged steel of our torn bow ripped along the warship, buckling railings and snapping cables. The heavy stench of gasoline filled the air. The forty liters of outboard gasoline stored in the bow petrol compartment had burst into the now crushed bow compartment. The gasoline poured down the decks, the miracle being that the intense friction had not ignited it. An explosion would have most certainly killed or seriously burned Lisa, Frederik, and Marc.
I ordered a fire team to the bow and within seconds the potentially lethal gasoline was washed down the hastily plugged scuppers and pumped into a holding tank.
The impact swung our stern directly into the path of the towing rope. Our port engine grabbed the rope and came to an abrupt stop. I shut down the starboard engine as diver Jonathan Mayer prepared to go over the side with a knife to cut it free. The deck crew began to haul the 200-foot line in. Our bow teeth had severed the rope from the warship at the cost of a torn cutting tooth. Nonetheless, we were dead in the water with at least one prop seized. If the Norwegians moved now, and I was sure they would, they would be boarding us within minutes. The deck crew ran to man the fire hoses and stood by to repel boarders.
In the engine room, Jeremy Coon worked the shaft back and forth as the blades cut into the entangled and knotted rope.
Above us, a large helicopter from the warship swooped in. I grabbed a parachute flare and triggered it, sending the rocket skyward as a warning to the chopper to back off. The pilot retreated.
The ramming occurred at 0825 Hrs, but the Norwegians stood off until 0920 Hrs and did nothing. This gave us the time to haul the heavy hawser on board and to attempt to cut the rope away beneath the water line. The crew worked feverishly, well aware of our vulnerable position.
With some of the rope still in the water, we noticed the Andenes getting under way. I started both engines to slow ahead. Suddenly, a long length of rope was wrenched across the front of the wheelhouse becoming increasingly tighter. One of the props was still snagged. I ran from the wheelhouse, grabbing an ax en route and hacked violently at the dangerously stressed hawser. It parted and we saw the line cork-screwing to the stern. Jeremy stopped the engines and realizing it was entrapped around the port engine, he started up the starboard motor and we limped forward while the warship thundered down upon us from the stern.
With the Andenes almost on us, Jeremy finally broke the rope free by gearing the prop forward and reverse, cutting it each time with the blades. We now had both engines and we jumped forward at 13 knots. This was still only half the potential speed of our pursuer, but the two engines plus the bow thruster now gave us back our maneuverability.
We now turned back away from the coast of Norway. Our unarmed vessel would not be able to carry on towards the coast past that heavily armed cruiser. It was time for a tactical retreat.
The Norwegians pursued us out to sea. I informed them that we were returning to the Shetland Islands, some five hundred miles to the south.
The commander came back angrily on the radio.
"Whales Forever, this is Andenes. You are under arrest."
I picked up the radio. "Andenes this is Captain Watson. We did not enter Norwegian waters and we broke no Norwegian law. You have no authority to arrest this ship in international waters."
The Norwegian replied, "You will be arrested. Stop your ship."
"Negative, Captain. I will not stop this ship and we will not be arrested. I will not submit to your illegal demands."
"Captain Watson, I have it from the highest authority in Norway. Norway are willing to go to or to use whatever means we need to take your ship under arrest."
I was amazed at their militance. "Captain, are you prepared to sink this ship and kill my people?"
The commander responded coldly, "By whatever means. I intend to fire upon you. This is your first warning shot."
The awesome 57mm turret gun pointed in our direction. We saw a puff of smoke, a deep boom and a fountain of water erupted 20 metres to the starboard side of our ship.
Lisa, who was standing on the bridge said, "I thought they were supposed to fire across the bow."
I smiled at her. "In theory they are. Perhaps you can raise the U.S. State Department on the radio and explain this nonsense to them."
The radio crackled, "Whales Forever. Please order your crew to the stern, I will be firing a shell into your bow. Let me know when your crew are all on the stern."
I found it difficult to believe that he was actually going to fire into our vessel. Meanwhile, helmsman Chuck Swift had overheard the message and rallied the crew to the bow and then directed them to stand along the length of the ship.
The commander was not pleased. "Captain Watson. I see you are not obeying my orders and you are willing to order your crew into danger instead."
"Andenes, I did not order my crew to do anything. They've read quite a bit of Gandhi. I can't do a damn thing with them in this regard. Some of them have stood down bulldozers and whaling ships. They'll stand down your guns."
In anger, the commander snapped back. "I will hold you responsible Captain Watson for any deaths or injuries."
I answered, "Who do you think you are - Pontius Pilate? You've got the guns, Sir, it's your finger on the trigger. We are unarmed. If you shoot, you will be responsible for killing people, not me. The world will hold you responsible."
Apparently unperturbed, the Commander said, "Tell your people, I will be firing a second shot."
I relayed the message. On the bow, Chuck explained to everyone that the situation was extremely dangerous. They said they all understood and all agreed to stand their ground.
The big gun barked again and a shell whistled through the air over the ship and landed 30 metres on the port side.
The Commander, clearly frustrated now that we had stood down his threat, called and ordered me to evacuate the engine room.
"I intend to put a shot through your hull into your engine compartment. You are ordered to evacuate your crew from the engine room."
As calmly as possible, I answered. "Negative Sir, I will not do that. If you fire into our engine room, you will kill people. I have five engineers down there, four men and a woman. You would hit them."
"Captain Watson, I have ordered you to evacuate your engine room."
"I heard you, Andenes. You have no authority over this ship. We have no intention of submitting to your guns. We have broken no law, we have not invaded your territory. You are acting irrationally and we will not submit."
"Whales Forever, this is Andenes. You will submit. You will be arrested and you will be taken to Bødo and your ship confiscated. I order you to stop your ship."
"Andenes, we will never submit to you. The answer for the final time is 'no'."
Putting the radio down, I turned to First Officer Bjørn Ursfjord. "They don't seem to understand that we will not stop."
Bjørn, having served with the Norwegian Navy said, "Nobody has ever said no to them before. They have not been given orders on how to deal with a negative
"Do you think they will sink us?" I asked him.
"It is possible. It is obviously the only way to stop us."
"Okay," I said as I turned to 2nd officer David Ziskin, "Dave, trigger the EPIRB and send a Mayday distress signal. We are under fire and we have been threatened with sinking. The EPIRB will confirm our status in international waters."
The Andenes falls back, stops and then approaches rapidly on our starboard side. Suddenly from behind the warship, a fast inflatable darts out with three men on board. It's moving extremely fast and the crew rushes to repel possible boarders.
The inflatable crosses our bow and I see a man pick up a heavy blue container which he tosses over the side only two meters in front of us.
"What the hell is that?" I yelled, just as a horrendous explosion lifts the ship upward and the entire vessel is rocked with the force detonated below us.
"Depth charges," shouts Bjørn from his station at the wheel. "Here they come again."
One of our cameras tracks the second pass. Directly in front of us, a commando heaves a 2nd charge upwards and begins to toss it over the side when he stumbles, bumps into the driver and drops the charge directly into the bottom of their boat.
The reaction was comic coupled with the realization of the impending tragedy. All three commandos stare down open-mouthed at the fumbled canister. Two of them dive for it and manage to roll it over the side into the water. It had already been triggered and a second blast was felt throughout the ship.
The commandos dropped two more depth charges. I ignored them and carried on. My choices were simple. One, I could surrender and lose the ship and submarine to the Norwegians. We would then be arrested. Two, I could carry on and risk them attacking us, thus losing both the ship and the submarine, therefore endangering
the lives of the crew. If we survived, we would be arrested. I decided to call their bluff. Norway had too much to lose if they killed us. I decided on the second choice. We would carry on.
The pursuit had begun a 0550 Hrs. It was not until 0220 Hrs the next day that the Andenes finally fell back and abandoned pursuit. After a twenty-hour high-seas chase, the Norwegians gave up and we had won the day. The command for our arrest had been disputed and we made them back down.
Meanwhile, the Norwegians had taken their film back to shore with the story of how the Whales Forever had rammed their warship and had refused to submit to arrest.
The Norwegian footage did not show the ramming and they denied using depth charges and firing upon us. Our cameras had captured all that evidence, but it would take two days before we could off-load our film in the Shetland Islands.
Actions by Greenpeace
Meanwhile, our campaign in the north having drawn the full attention of the Norwegian Navy had allowed the Greenpeace ships Sirius and Solo to approach the whaler Senet. The Senethad just completed costly repairs after being scuttled by O.R.C.A.FORCE agents in January 1994.
The Greenpeace crew boarded the Senet at sea and attempted to damage the harpoon. I was amused by this report. Greenpeace has criticized us for years for damaging property, refusing to forgive me for pulling a seal club out of a sealer's hand back in 1977. Now, finally, they were adopting Sea Shepherd tactics.
The whalers were not so amused however. The Greenpeacers were bodily picked up by the burly whalers and indignantly thrown over the side.
The Whales Forever limped into Lerwick harbour on July 8 to a friendly welcoming reception by many Shetland Islanders. On hand also were numerous Norwegian and international media.
One Norwegian journalist shouted, "Watson. Why did you ram the Andenes?" "I did not ram the Andenes, the Norwegians rammed the Whales Forever," I answered.
"You are a liar Watson. The Norwegian Coast Guard have told us that you rammed them," shouted the reporter.
I kept calm and answered, "The film footage will prove otherwise. However let's assume that we did in fact ram the Andenes. This means that an unarmed civilian yacht rammed the best warship in the Norwegian Navy and got away with it. I would think that this would be extremely embarrassing for Norway. What kind of wimpy Navy do you have?"
The Norwegian media, however, ignored the film evidence and carried the story that we rammed the Navy. One newspaper carried a fuzzy picture on the cover of a man on top of the wheelhouse of the Whales Forever. The photo had a circle drawn around an object in his hand with a caption stating that the photo was proof that Sea Shepherd carried weapons. The object was described as a gun. In actual fact, the man was Derek McCurdy and the object that he actually held in his hand was a weapon far more damaging than a gun, it was a 16mm film camera with a "shotgun mike".
The ship stayed in the Shetlands for only a week. Although the local officials were very supportive, two Special Branch police flew in from Edinburgh to arrest our first officer Bjørn Ursfjord. He was flown back to Edinburgh and imprisoned on a Norwegian request. Without any charges being laid, he was told he would be held for four weeks to await a deportation hearing. When asked how Britain could arrest and detain a Norwegian citizen in Britain at the request of a non-European Union member like Norway, the police refused to answer. One newspaper in Norway reported that Bjørn was being held on suspicion of treason.
Because we were unable to complete repairs in Lerwick, the Whales Forever departed for Aberdeen where our damaged bow was removed and replaced. We kept the repair costs down by doing most of the cutting and welding ourselves.
Meanwhile we kept the Norwegians speculating on our return. Three warships were dispatched to patrol the waters between Scotland and Norway. A lighthouse keeper in the Shetlands had seen a Norwegian naval vessel patrolling just outside the British three-mile limit. Although down for repairs, we were still making the Norwegians nervous and costing them money.
With the repairs completed, we could not return to Norway. The whaling season was over. More than three hundred defenseless Minke whales had been slaughtered.
In a surprising move, the Norwegian ambassador to Germany agreed to debate me on RTL TV in Germany. The Ambassador was not very well briefed on the issue and did not win many friends in Germany when he referred to the Holocaust and compared it to the slaughter of whales, suggesting that Germany had no right to be critical of Norway. The Ambassador revealed his ignorance of modern Germany in doing so. The Germans today are a very morally conscious society and extremely aware of ecological realities - probably moreso than any other European nation.
A major consolation was that it had cost Norway plenty. For every dollar the whalers had made during the summer, the Norwegian government had been forced to spend twenty dollars to protect the whalers. For the second year in a row, we had been responsible for security costs, higher insurance premiums, and higher public relations costs.
The summer ended and the whale wars go on. The Clinton/Gore administration still refuses to uphold U.S. sanctions against Norway for illegal whaling. The issue has been elevated to become a crucial factor in Norway's application to join the European Economic Community. Many European nations do not want Norway admitted if they continue whaling. Thus, the publicity we generated in Europe this summer has been of great importance.
In summary, the campaign was very successful. Norway sustained great economic damage in terms of security, insurance premiums, lobbying and public relations costs. The warship Andenes suffered much more extensive physical damage than the Whales Forever and had to be drydocked. The commander of the Andenes was relieved of his command and some Norwegian politicians demanded the resignation of the Norwegian Defense Minister and the Chief of Police of the District of Bødo.
Our campaign was covered internationally in the media with excellent coverage in Australia, Canada, Germany, and Norway. Thus we have kept the issue of illegal whaling as a hot issue in the media.
The whale wars unfortunately continue. However, the whalers are being opposed at every opportunity and we are denying them their profits and embarrassing the governments that sanction this illicit and remorseless slaughter.