Pete Bethune has had a very busy past 12 months.
It was only a little over a year ago, on January 7th, 2010, that the former Sea Shepherd lost his prized trimaran “Ady Gil” after a collision with a Japanese whaling vessel. Then came the bold move to board a whaling ship under the cover of darkness, followed by jail time in Japan, subsequent release, and a very public falling-out with Sea Shepherd in October. He later released a memoir about his adventures and announced plans to form his own ocean conservation group called “ECO” or “Earthrace Conservation Organization”.
Along the way, the man that allowed the SS to add Bethune’s boat to their fleet, Ady Gil, has gone from Hollywood TV businessman and benefactor to ocean conservationist. He’s currently in Taiji working to build local support against the much-publicized dolphin hunts there — and has backed Bethune 100% since he left Sea Shepherd.
In light of a reported lawsuit from Ady Gil that Paul Watson revealed on his Facebook page recently, I contacted both men to get their side of the story; as well as shed light on a few questions that have been swirling in online forums — most notably the always informative Planet Ocean Alliance boards.
Ecorazzi: Regarding the recent lawsuit drama: In a letter posted by Watson, your attorney stated: “If we do not have your agreement to do so by 5:00 p.m. on November 15, 2010 we will proceed with filing an action against Sea Shepherd and Mr. Watson to recover $1,000.000 plus interest, as well as punitive damages.” What made you decide not to file — and why do believe Watson chose to say that you did and only recently?
Ady Gil: I have been in communication with Sea Shepherd about it since January of 2010. I had a face to face meeting with Paul few months before the last campaign, and wanted to resolve the two issues: naming rights and $500K, which remains outstanding. He claimed that he needed money for the next campaign and wanted to see if I was sympathetic to the delaying of the naming of a replacement vessel to “Ady Gil II”. I agreed to give Sea Shepherd a reasonable amount of time to find a replacement boat. We shook hands and called for a new beginning. On October 26, 2010, I was badly insulted by a Sea Shepherd board member while trying to resolve this issue. At that point I decided that the only way to resolve it would be through my lawyers. My lawyers sent them a letter stating my intent, which has partially now been made public information by Paul Watson via Facebook. An unsatisfactory and unprofessional action. This letter of intent to sue was acknowledged by Sea Shepherd’s lawyers. I continue to reserve the right to sue them, but actually would like to see if they will to resolve it without the need of the court system.
I have no idea why Paul Watson chose now to disclose the intention to sue and why it was made so public.
Ecorazzi: Can you tell us a bit more about what you’re doing in Taiji? The reports I’ve read is that your intent on “building bridges”. Many have asked how that might be different as opposed to what SS has done there over the last several months.
Ady Gil: The only way to make a change in Japan is to have the Japanese people want a change. We can not come here to their country and TELL them what to do. As horrible as the dolphin hunt is, and I have seen it with my own eyes, it is what they do. No different than factory farming in the US. If there was a culture of “Cow Loving”, if we thought that cows are “cute”, if cows played with balls and hoops, we would feel the same about cow slaughter.
The fact is that the majority of the people in Japan love dolphins. Tangalooma in Australia offers its guests a better way to interact with dolphins, other people only get to see them in aquariums. Japan has 100 of the 500 aquariums world wide, (data that I got from an official person in Japan).
We have posted statistics about Taiji. Fisheries are a declining business here. It just went down from about 12% to about 8%, in 5 short years, of total business revenue in the city. Building the bridges will possibly open their eyes to use the treasure that they have, hundreds of dolphins in the oceans, to bring people here, to watch and swim with dolphins, and revive the economy in Taiji.
Ecorazzi: In a recent interview, you mentioned that you like to salvage the Ady Gil. Is this something you would literally like to do? Have you (or Pete) had any reports that the Gil might still be floating around out there?
Pete Bethune: The designers are adamant the boat is still afloat. Ady Gil only weighed about 18 ton, but the foam core she is made of will support 24 ton. She was such a light boat, and in all probability she will still be floating in the southern ocean still.
Ady Gil: There is a chance that the boat is still there. It is a very light construction, so even full of water it is probably still there. Despite what Sea Shepherd is saying, that I was the “Owner” of the boat, the entire deal was a mechanism for them to obtain it and keep it. People think that I wanted to own “Earthrace” later to be named “Ady Gil”. The fact is that Sea Shepherd was not sure if New Zealand will let them keep the flag on the boat, and whether or not they would have to pay 15% sales tax if they bought it. They had my $1,000,000 for about 5 weeks. To facilitate the deal I came up with what now appears to be a really stupid idea for me. I will buy Earthrace Limited NZ, then charter the boat to Sea Shepherd for $1. I did not ask them for insurance and had no right to name the crew. $1 for a $1.5 Million is a gift.
Now all of a sudden it is my boat. So, yes, technically it is, and if I find it I can probably retain it. But the fact is, that if I do, you will see how Sea Shepherd will claim that it is their boat. We really need to be honorable in life. The basic deal was: “Put my name on the boat and I will give you $1,000,000” As we all say, “No good deed goes unpunished” I have done so many good deeds, and never had that kind of a punishment as I got from Sea Shepherd.
Ecorazzi: How are plans for your next boat coming along? What are the next steps?
Pete Bethune: Concept designs nearly completed. We will start fundraising later this year. Realistically it will be 3 years before she is in the water.
Ecorazzi: You’ve received a lot of wonderful feedback on your new Earthrace Conservation Org — are you encouraged by the support? Can you reveal anymore about the Faroe Islands campaign later this year?
Pete Bethune: Yeah, it has been very heartening. We’ve got chapters in four countries all starting in next few weeks, and we’ll roll out to others later in the year. I was worried that people would not want to support a new organisation, but it seems many are willing to get involved. I am very keen to have an organisation that empowers people to take ownership of marine conservation in their area. I don’t want them just fundraising for one campaign that happens on the other side of the world. I want them actively working in their area. All countries pretty much have marine conservation issues to be worked on. Faroes campaign will be Jun 15 – Sep 15. Still working out the details. It will be one of 6 large campaigns this year, plus the many smaller ones happening locally.
Ecorazzi: How has the new book, “Whale Warrior“, been selling?
Pete Bethune: The new book is selling well. The feedback is really good from people who have read it. When in prison, I really put my soul into writing it. I’ve never written such personal stuff before. The third section especially which covers my time incarcerated. But I hesitated for a few days to hand the manuscript over to the publishers. I was worried my soul would end up in a bargain bin selling for $5. Or people would laugh at my thoughts. I considered that maybe I should take some stuff out. In the end I said ‘bugger it’ — and I handed it over. I’m glad I did. Looking at it now, it is the section I am proudest of. If you read the book I reckon you really get to know me.