Japan denies shooting anti-whaler in
March 7, 2008
By Michael Perry
SYDNEY (Reuters) - A hardline anti-whaling activist, Sea Shepherd
captain Paul Watson, said he was shot during a clash with Japanese
whalers in the Southern Ocean on Friday, but survived because he
was wearing a Kevlar vest.
But Japan's fisheries agency said coastguard officials aboard the
whaling ship had only thrown "flash grenades," which are used for
crowd control and are not regarded as weapons.
Watson told Australian radio from his ship that anti-whaling
activists threw "stink bombs" on to the Japanese whaling factory
ship the Nisshin Maru. The Japanese retaliated throwing "flash
grenades" on to the deck of the Steve Irwin and during the clash,
Watson said he was shot.
"I felt this impact on my chest. I found a bullet buried in the
Kevlar vest that I wear. It bruised my shoulder but it would have
hit my heart if I didn't have the vest," Watson said.
Sea Shepherd posted photos on its news Web site showing Japanese
throwing smoking canisters and Watson holding what he said was a
bullet and a dented badge hit by the object.
"I didn't see anyone shoot at me and it was pretty hard for any of
the crew to see anything because everyone was ducking from these
flash grenades," said Watson.
Australia's foreign affairs department initially said it had been
told by Japan that warning shots had been fired, but later
clarified its statement saying Japanese whalers fired three "warning
balls," also known as "flashbangs." Australia said Japan had said
"no gunshots had been fired."
"He must have heard the bang of the flash grenade and got a shock,"
the fisheries ministry official said.
Coastguard officials have been assigned to Japan's whaling vessels
this season after escalating clashes with anti-whaling activists,
who say the industry is cruel and unnecessary.
"There are two coastguards aboard the Nisshin Maru. They are armed
with pistols, but they were not used in this incident," a Japan
Coast Guard spokeswoman said.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith called for calm from
whalers and protesters.
"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," he said.
Japan's top government spokesman criticized Sea Shepherd's attacks.
"They have repeatedly resorted to such activities and it is truly
unforgivable," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura
"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," he added.
Watson's ship has been harassing the Japanese whaling fleet for
weeks. In an earlier confrontation two activists boarded a
Japanese ship in January and were held until an Australian
fisheries patrol ship in the Southern Ocean intervened.
During the January stand-off, Japan suspended its plan to kill
nearly 1,000 whales during the year's Antarctic summer.
Japan, which considers whaling to be a cultural tradition,
abandoned commercial whaling after agreeing to an international
moratorium in 1986, but began what it calls a scientific research
whaling program the following year.
Australia has promised to try to stop Japan's whaling program but
the two countries have agreed not to let the issue hurt bilateral