You are hereBlogs / WcP.Observer's blog / Experts: Bethune's boarding not illegal under international law. Maritime law requires whaler to return him safely to NZ or AU

Experts: Bethune's boarding not illegal under international law. Maritime law requires whaler to return him safely to NZ or AU

By WcP.Observer - Posted on 18 February 2010

Top L: Pete Bethune, skipper of Earthrace, the world record holder for circumnavigation. Middle: Earthrace, renamed Ady Gil, on new mission to defend ocean life but sunk by Japanese whaler. Bottom: Japanese 750+ tons iron&steel whaling ship running over 17 tons carbon-fibre (fibreglass) Ady Gil (Earthrace), space-age, only-one-of-its-kind trimaran with 6 crew on board including Captain Pete Bethune

Legal expert said Bethune's boarding is not illegal under international law. Under marine law, the whaler, the one to accept or refuse citizen’s arrest, has obligation to see Pete Bethune safely back to land. Here are some questions: does the subject of a citizen's arrest have the right to imprison the citizen who delivers the arrest? The whaler did not allow journalist to speak to Pete Bethune. Does Bethune, victim of Jan. 6 collision and the one delivering citizen’s arrest, have the right to see or to speak to someone, such as an attorney for legal help, his chosen interpreter for language help, etc. etc.?


Ocean life defender and world record holder Captain Pete Bethune climbed aboard a Japanese vessel on Feb. 14, 2010 in the Antarctic Ocean to attempt a citizen's arrest for the destruction of a protest vessel last month. He wanted to arrest Shonan Maru 2's captain for Ady Gil's destruction and "attempted murder" of six Ady Gil crew members.

The whalers decried the boarding as illegal. However, Donald Rothwell, a professor of international and maritime law at the Australian National University, said Bethune's boarding was not illegal under international law unless he planned to do harm to the crew or imperil the safety of the Shonan Maru 2. Merely making a demand or presenting a letter and a bill did not constitute terrorism or piracy.

Captain Pete Bethune has clearly & without any mistake stated in his written letter that the Japanese whaler has an obligation under maritime law to provide him with safe passage back to land: "If you refuse to be arrested, then I am requesting that you deliver me to Wellington (New Zealand). Having sunk my vessel, and with our issuing of a mayday call, you have an obligation under maritime law to provide me with safe passage back to land." Apparently, Captain Bethune is boarding to deliver a citizen arrest for "attempted murder" (Maritime NZ confirms Ady Gil investigation) which he himself experienced and survived as one of the six almost-killed Ady Gil crew members, and to deliver an invoice - compensation for the world-famous, only-one-of-its-kind space-age ecoboat Earthrace, alter renamed after ocean life philanthropist, Ady Gil.

Ady Gil (originally named Earthrace, a famed space-age boat using 100% biofuel) Captain boards Whaling Ship to make citizen's arrest. In a cover letter Bethune states: "I am here to arrest you. I am requesting that you transfer now to the Steve Irwin, where we will take you into custody, and we will deliver you to the Maritime Safety Authority and the New Zealand Police once we reach Wellington (New Zealand)." As Captain of the Ady Gil, Peter Bethune has an invoice for $3 million which he will present to the skipper of the Shonan Maru 2.

"If you refuse to be arrested, then I am requesting that you deliver me to Wellington (New Zealand). Having sunk my vessel, and with our issuing of a mayday call, you have an obligation under maritime law to provide me with safe passage back to land."

"I will refuse to be handed over to any Sea Shepherd vessel. I will also refuse to be handed over to any New Zealand or Australian Coastguard, Customs or Naval vessel. I will only leave the Shonan Maru when you transfer with me to the Steve Irwin, or when we arrive on land, be it New Zealand or Australia."

"I am enclosing an invoice for US $3m, representing the new replacement cost of the Ady Gil. You are responsible for the collision and as such, you are also responsible for paying for its replacement."

"I commit to you that while I am on your vessel, that I will not impede or disrupt your crew and their activities."

The invoice, dated 14 February 2010, says, "If payment is not forthcoming within four weeks of receiving this document, we will be proceeding with criminal charges in Japan against your company. We will be seeking punitive damages, in addition to the full replacement cost of the Ady Gil. Further to this, we will be laying criminal charges against the Captain of the Shonan Maru #2."

Peter Bethune concludes his open letter with a plea : "I am just an ordinary man with a wife and two kids, who is prepared to make a stand against something that I believe is wrong. That is why I came to Antarctica to try and stop you, and that is why I am here on your vessel today."

Mr McCully said he met the Japanese ambassador to discuss the issue and let Japanese authorities know that New Zealand was keen to offer consular support to Mr Bethune. He said he was given an assurance that would be allowed to happen. Mr McCully said his understanding was thatMr Bethune boarded the Japanese ship to make a point, "knowing there would be consequences from it and that he is not only not seeking to be removed, but is refusing to be removed" (Questions: Was McCully told so by the whaler? Or did he hear the words directly form Pete Bethune?). McCully said he had vague information suggesting Mr Bethune was in "reasonable shape", but couldn't say how securely he was being detained and whether he was handcuffed. Such information was being sought today.

However, Captain Pete Bethune has made himself more than clear that he will leave the whaling ship with skipper of the Shonan Maru 2 (if he does not refuse the arrest) or without him (if skipper of the Shonan Maru 2 refuses the citizen's arrest). "If you refuse to be arrested, then I am requesting that you deliver me to Wellington (New Zealand). Having sunk my vessel, and with our issuing of a mayday call, you have an obligation under maritime law to provide me with safe passage back to land."


Photos courtesy of Earthrace, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and Guardian

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