On a day where Paul Watson publicly responded for the first time since fleeing Germany, Pete Bethune entered a courtroom in Annapolis, Maryland to begin testimony against the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
It’s been a long, contentious, and unfortunate series of events to reach this moment between the two parties.
On January 7th, 2010, Bethune 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 went on to form his own ocean conservation group called “ECO” or “Earthrace Conservation Organization”.
Word of the lawsuit was announced last November by Bethune on Facebook – but the legal salvos actually started earlier. Back in late 2010, Watson leaked a letter from an attorney for Ady Gil (the Hollywood producer who helped purchase the vessel for $1.5M) threatening to sue unless $1,000,000 plus interest and punitive damages was paid up. In a January 2011 interview with us, Gil dismissed that a lawsuit was imminent, but said all options were on the table.
“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 said. “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.”
Gil later added: “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.”
As the action playing out in Annapolis is in Bethune’s name, we have no idea if Gil eventually made any ground against Sea Shepherd. If what Watson said in response to the interview is true, neither may have a case that holds water.
“Despite misinformation, Ady Gil never donated one million dollars to Sea Shepherd,” wrote Watson. “He gave us a check for a million dollars but it was never cashed because along with the check were demands that we could not agree to as a charitable organization and thus the check was returned.
“Ady purchased the Earthrace for one million dollars. Ady then chartered the vessel to Sea Shepherd for $1. Pete Bethune unfortunately had the power to choose his own crew and they are the men seen whining on the Whale Wars episodes because Pete told them they would only be away from home for a couple of weeks. The only Sea Shepherd crewmember onboard was Laurens DeGroot and he reported that he was worried that Pete was too much of a cowboy.
“Ady Gil and Sea Shepherd did have a contract that stated that if the Ady Gil was lost, Sea Shepherd would name a second vessel after him. However when the one million dollars was not actually donated to Sea Shepherd this voided the contract and Sea Shepherd is under no legal obligation to name any vessel after Ady Gil. We did not name the first vessel Ady Gil. He gave his own name to his own boat.
“Ady sent a letter to Sea Shepherd and I in November 2010 threatening a lawsuit if we did not name our new interceptor vessel the Ady Gil II. He gave us a deadline to respond. We notified his lawyer that the “contract” was no longer binding due to the donation not having been received. We have heard nothing since.
“Pete Bethune also has no legal contract to be paid a half a million dollars. We paid that amount for his legal defense but we are not under any obligation to pay him for a vessel we never owned. He was paid $10,000 during the time he was incarcerated and the funds were sent to his wife.”
Naturally, Bethune counters this argument – saying in his November Facebook announcement that an actual purchase agreement exists signed by a Sea Shepherd CEO.
His version of the agreement:
“The Earthrace boat was sold to Sea Shepherd / Ady Gil on 20 Nov 2009 for $1.5m. At that stage my debts were $1.6m, so it would have nearly covered the debt I had amassed in constructing the vessel. As part of the deal, Ady Gil paid me $1m on this day, and had the boat named after him. He got ownership of the vessel, and Sea Shepherd got to lease the vessel from him for $1 per year with automatic right of renewal. Ady had no say in crew or where the vessel went. This was entirely up to Sea Shepherd.
“At the time Sea Shepherd had limited funds, and so they asked to delay their payment of the $500k until 20th November 2010 – Which I agreed to. This was written in to the Sale and Purchase agreement that was signed by the Sea Shepherd CEO.”
A media note on the Earthrace Conservation site says there exists an additional 20 emails confirming that the remaining $500,000 would be paid to Bethune in 2010.
“I am extremely sad that I have been forced to bring this case to court against an organisation that I loved and a man that I had great respect for,” Bethune said in a statement.
“I sacrificed a year of my life to Paul and the SSCS, including five months locked up in a maximum security prison in Japan resulting from actions I took under the captaincy of Paul. He then expelled me from SSCS whilst I was in jail and their treatment of me publicly and privately since then has been a disgrace. The Japanese at least treated me with dignity and respect. Sea Shepherd in contrast has treated me like a used condom, throwing me away once I’d served its purpose.”
A ruling in the case, which ends tomorrow, is expected near the end of August.