Protester says Japanese whalers shot him

Friday, March 7, 2008

Paul Watson in 2005.
Image: David w ng.

Paul Watson of the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd says that he was shot by Japanese sailors while protesting against their hunting practices in Antarctica. Watson, captain of the Sea Shepherd ship the Steve Irwin, stated that his crew had been throwing stink bombs at the sailors, but that they responded with gunfire and flash grenades.

Watson said he was hit in the chest and found a bullet in the ballistic vest he was wearing. Watson told Australian radio: "It bruised my shoulder but it would have hit my heart if I didn't have the vest". He says one of his crew members received minor injuries after being hit by a flash grenade. News Limited reported that Ralph Lowe, 33, had a bruised back from a flash grenade that exploded behind him, and that Ashley Dunn, 35, received a hip injury while trying to get away from an explosion. David Page, the ship's doctor, was filmed by the Sea Shepherd group prying a bullet from Watsons's Kevlar vest, and said "You have been hit by a bullet".

Tokyo denied Watson's account, stating that "warning devices" were thrown after their ship had been attacked. Japan's foreign ministry said that their coastguard on the Nisshin Maru threw a baseball-sized device which exploded near the protesters' ship and emitted a loud sound, and was not designed to cause harm to anyone. Glenn Inwood, spokesman for the Japanese whalers, told ABC Radio: "Any claim from Paul Watson that he was fired at with a gun and has a bullet lodged in his bulletproof vest is absolutely false." Inwood stated there had been "retaliation" when the Japanese coast guards fired warning balls at the Steve Irwin.

Stephen Smith in 2008.
Image: U.S. Dept. Defense.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith released a statement regarding information he received from Japanese officials: "Japanese officials have now advised the Australian embassy in Tokyo that during the incident in the Southern Ocean this afternoon, three warning balls — also known as flashbangs — had been fired ... Japanese officials have advised that these devices are designed to make a loud noise but not to injure, and that no gunshots had been fired." Japan also told the Australian Embassy that one of the crew members of the Nisshin Maru had fired a warning shot in the air. Smith stated: "I absolutely condemn actions by crew members of any vessel that cause injury – or have the potential to cause injury — to anyone on the high seas ... The Australian Government once again calls on all parties in the Southern Ocean — including all protest and whaling vessels, and their respective crews – to exercise restraint."

Nobutaka Machimura in 2005.
Image: U.S. State Dept..

Watson explained to Australia's ABC News that the Japanese whalers had no reason to fire on the protesters: "We were doing what we usually do, which is putting stink bombs on deck ... We go out of our way to make sure we don't throw them near anybody, but they were throwing the flash grenades directly at us." If Watson's statements are proven to be true, the actions of the Japanese saliors represents a breach of international law.

Japan claimed that four crew members of the Nisshin Maru were injured in the confrontation, but Watson denied this. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura criticized the Sea Shepherd group in a statement to reporters: "They have repeatedly resorted to such activities and it is truly unforgivable ... Is it all right to hurt humans in order to protect whales? I think whales are cute and important creatures, but even so, hurting humans is unforgivable."

Earlier this week, Sea Shepherd protesters clashed with the Nisshin Maru, and threw stink bombs and "slippery" powder at the Japanese ship. Two Sea Shepherd protesters were taken hostage in January after they boarded a Japanese harpoon ship, the Yushin Maru No. 2, and Australia later brokered their release. Protesters have been following the Nisshin Maru since Japan began its annual hunt for whales in the Southern Ocean in December.

Both New Zealand and Australia have led international protests against the hunting of whales. Last month Australia released film of whale slaughter taken from its customs ship, the Oceanic Viking, and said the footage could be used in a potential international legal challenge to Japan's whaling activities. Due to a loophole in a 1986 global moratorium on whaling that allows "lethal research" on whales, Japan kills up to 1,000 of the mammals per year.


  Learn more about Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd and Whaling in Japan on Wikipedia.