United States businessman and conservationist Ady Gil has confirmed reports he is suing the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, claiming it deliberately sank his boat in the Antarctic.
Mr Gil filed the US$5 million lawsuit in the Los Angeles Superior Court on January 7, almost three years to the day since the state-of-the-art trimaran sank.
The vessel, also called Ady Gil, collided with a Japanese whaling vessel in the Southern Ocean in January 2010.
The crash, which each side blamed the other for, severely damaged the Ady Gil’s nose, and it sank hours later.
At the time, Sea Shepherd’s then-president Paul Watson told media his crew had tried all day to salvage the NZ$1.5 million trimaran, but were unable to keep it afloat.
But ten months later the Ady Gil’s skipper, New Zealander Pete Bethune, claimed Mr Watson had ordered the vessel to be deliberately and secretly scuttled to increase public sympathy.
That claim is also the basis of Mr Gil’s legal action. He wouldn’t discuss details of the case with 3 News while it was before the court, but verified a report on TMZ.com that he believes the collision was “an opportunity to spin the incident into a major publicity and money maker” for Sea Shepherd.
Mr Gil claims he let Sea Shepherd use his boat on the understanding they would take care of it. He was not consulted by Mr Watson before the alleged scuttling.
Mr Gil did tell 3 News he believes the damage to his boat was repairable, and that the crew only “pretended to tow it” back to port.
Bethune still regrets ‘betrayal’
The Ady Gil’s Antarctic skipper Pete Bethune, who spent five months in a Japanese prison after the clash before being deported back to New Zealand, says he is “not at all surprised” that Mr Gil is suing Sea Shepherd.
“When he did find out that his boat had been scuttled deliberately in the Southern Ocean, he was livid,” says Mr Bethune.
He says he still regrets obeying Mr Watson’s orders to flood the vessel.
“I’m sorry for my part of it… I should’ve said, ‘If you want it sunk, you go and do it, I’m not a party to it.’”
He says it’s the only thing he regrets about his time in Antarctica.
“I don’t regret doing the prison time and everything else that happened, but I do regret my part in sinking that vessel.”
Mr Bethune says he intends to try and stay out of the court case, although he accepts he could be subpoenaed by either of the parties.
“There’s only four or five people who are privy to exactly what happened in Antarctica, and I’m definitely one of those,” he says.
Mr Bethune is no longer involved with Sea Shepherd and is currently awaiting a verdict in his own case against the organisation, which he says still owes him half a million US dollars for its share in purchasing the Ady Gil (formerly known as Earthrace) from him.
Watson wants case dismissed
Paul Watson says he is “not too concerned” about what he is calling a “frivolous lawsuit”, and will seek to have it dismissed.
He denies that the Ady Gil was ever under his orders, laying blame for the Southern Ocean incident squarely on Mr Bethune.
“Sea Shepherd was not involved, nor were we even responsible,” he says.
Mr Watson says his only instructions to Mr Bethune were to scout for the whaling fleet.
“I never at any time gave him instructions to engage in confrontation with them.”
He also denies ordering Mr Bethune to sink the ship, and says he has video evidence to prove it.
“On camera I said, ‘It’s Pete’s boat, it’s Pete’s decision.’ And then on camera, Pete makes the decision to abandon the boat. It was the only thing he could do, really.”
News of Ady Gil’s court action comes just days after Paul Watson’s resignation as president of the US branch of Sea Shepherd.
Mr Watson stepped down following a US court ruling barring the organisation from being within 450 metres of Japanese whaling vessels. However, he remains president of other Sea Shepherd branches around the world.
At the time of writing, the Sea Shepherd’s US branch had not responded to 3 News’ requests for comment.