Sea Shepherd group ready to defend Bethune
Anti-whaling protester Peter Bethune (NZPA)
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) has Japanese lawyers lined up to defend incarcerated anti-whaling protester Peter Bethune, but hopes Japanese authorities will consider him a "hot potato" and send him home.
Mr Bethune faces a charge of trespassing after boarding Japanese whaling ship Shonan Maru II in the Atlantic Ocean last month.
He was attempting to make a citizen's arrest and seeking damages following an earlier collision between the whaling ship and his boat, Ady Gil, which sank after being severely damaged.
Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson, who captains the Steve Irwin protest ship, which is due in Wellington harbour this evening, was supported on the steps of Parliament today by Labour and Green MPs as he talked to anti-whaling protestors about what he described as weak diplomatic attempts by the New Zealand Government to try and address the issue of whaling.
He also said the Government was doing little to try and assist Mr Bethune, who is likely to be detained by Japanese authorities for another couple of weeks before his fate is decided.
The Foreign Affairs ministry has said authorities were entitled to hold and question Mr Bethune for three weeks, and until then, there was little it could do other than to offer consulate assistance.
Capt Watson said if Japan decided to use the full force of the law to deal with Mr Bethune, it would be a difficult situation as courts there had a 98 percent conviction rate. Nevertheless, SSCS had a team of Japanese lawyers available to help him out.
In terms of potential legal battles over the collision between the Ady Gil and Shonan Maru II, it would also be difficult from Mr Bethune's perspective as the Japanese fleet and its whaling activities had the full support of the Japanese Government.
However, Capt Watson said Mr Bethune's situation was not unique, as in 2003 two environmental protesters cut fishing nets in a Japanese bay to free some dolphins and were arrested on charges of interfering with commerce. They were questioned for three weeks and let go.
Capt Watson said the same thing may happen in this case.
"I think in Pete Bethune the Japanese have got themselves a hot potato that I think they are going to probably want to let go as soon as possible, because it is just going to continue to draw attention," he told reporters.
Capt Watson said recent protest activity in the Antarctic Ocean was the society's most successful yet, and many whales' lives were saved as a result of the disruption caused.
He vowed to return to disrupt the next Japanese whaling expedition and said volunteers had already offered to join in.