Bethune gets suspended sentence

It's catch and release for Sea Shepherd ex-activist convicted of injuring whaler off Antarctica


An antiwhaling activist from New Zealand was convicted and given a suspended prison term Wednesday for interfering with a Japanese whaling ship and illegally boarding it in the Antarctic Ocean in February.

The Tokyo District Court gave a two-year prison term, suspended for five years, to former Sea Shepherd member Peter Bethune, 45, for launching a bottle containing butyric acid onto the Shonan Maru No. 2 that injured one of its crew members on Feb. 11, and for illegally boarding the vessel on Feb. 15.

Bethune was not planning to appeal, according to his counsel. After the ruling, the former Sea Shepherd member, who was expelled from the U.S.-based group during his trial in early June, was taken into custody by immigration authorities.

As he had technically illegally entered Japan by boarding the vessel, he is expected to be deported within days, said one of the attorneys, who declined to be named.

Prosecutors had demanded a two-year prison term, while Bethune’s defense team sought a suspended sentence. Bethune had pleaded guilty to four of the five charges against him.

Presiding Judge Takashi Tawada said that launching the bottle containing butyric acid was a dangerous act, adding that the court did not accept Bethune’s argument that he did not intend to injure crew members on board.

Bethune’s counsel had argued that their client boarded the vessel to seek compensation from the Japanese skipper for the loss of the Ady Gil — the small, high-tech Sea Shepherd vessel that Bethune skippered that sank after the Shonan Maru No. 2 sheared off its bow in January.

Even though the motive of his illegal entry was to this end, Bethune should have sought compensation in court, the judge said.

The court also criticized Sea Shepherd’s use of violence, which Bethune was a part of, adding that the International Whaling Commission has also issued a resolution against its activities.

Bethune used a launcher to fire a bottle of butyric acid at the Shonan Maru No. 2, which was protecting the Japanese whaling fleet, on Feb. 11. The bottle hit the ship, inflicting acid burns on one of the sailors. On Feb. 15, Bethune illegally boarded the vessel by using a knife to cut a hole in its protective net, the court said.

But the court said it decided to give Bethune a suspended term after taking into account that he basically owned up to his charges and stated in court that he was not going to be involved in future antiwhaling activities in the Antarctic Ocean.

Bethune has also paid compensation to the owner of the protective net that he cut, the court said.