Allan Takes Aim Blog

What would Captain Ahab say?

Posted on: 9 January 2010

Been reading, watching or listening to reports of the whale of a battle about whales in what, allegedly, is Australia’s Antarctic Southern Ocean (exclusive) Economic Zone? Whether or not the latter is accurate is a matter of dispute as some 47 member countries of the International Whaling Commission do not recognise Australia’s hegemony over the zone.

Japan is one such country, as indeed is Canada. That this is the case puts a different gloss on whether or not Australia has the right to stop Japan killing a number of whales which, Japan says it does in the interests of research.

But the cause of the current trouble is Canadian Paul Watson, Captain of the environmental ship, Sea Shepherd, whose small high powered and highly mobile second vessel Ady Gil collided with the whaling ship Shonan Maru while trying to prevent it from doing its job.

The collision was captured on video, since when there have been as many calls from the anti whaling lobby and other environmental zealots who blame the Japanese for the collision as there have been interpretations of what took place. They also advocate Australia launching legal proceedings against the Japanese.

On the other hand I know of many who think that if action is to be taken it should be against Captain Watson. As a former merchant seaman – I did not serve on a whaler – I agree with them. I am of the view that Captain Watson and his vigilantes should be prosecuted for their disregard of Maritime Law and safety at sea rules. Indeed, many compare his actions to terrorism or the actions of the pirates operating off the Somaliland coast.

My opinion about Captain Watson is based on watching the collision scene many times. In my opinion his claim that the Ady Gil was not under way at the time of the collision is spurious. That it was not under power is not the same as saying it was not under way.

Indeed many have taken the view that the collision occurred because Capatin Watson was trying to be too clever by half; that he had ordered the Ady Gill to cut its motor before it closed on the Shonan Maru and so was under way at reduced speed.

Other people who have viewed the collison said they could see no wake churn something that adds credibility to my theory that power had been cut too early thus making Ady Gil too slow to get out of the way of the Shonan Maru. Indeed had power not been cut ithe Ady Gil would have avoided colliding with the Shonan Maru. Unfortunately sensible discussion about this subject will never take place because Captain Williams personifies the kind of leader who is never wrong.

Of course, had everything gone to plan and a narrow miss instead of a collision taken place, Captain Watson would have been trumpeting in the media that it was only his seamanship that prevented a maritime disaster. The truth: his lack of seamanship and his need to be seen as the whale messiah nearly caused crew of the Ady Gil to lose their lives.

Too harsh a view of Captain Watson? I think not. His record speaks for itself. Never once during previous incidents has Captain Watson ever admitted to being in the wrong, either morally or in terms of seamanship. Not only has danger to life always been Japan’s fault but dangerous sea practices that could have caused loss of life have also been its fault.

I think it’s about time the Conservation movement for whom Captain Watson works reined him in because the ocean can not be taken lightly. It has never listened to messiahs who think they know all the answers. I hope, too, that his extremism in the Antarctic’s whale battles does not lead to a major disaster that causes people to lose their life. Unfortunately I am less than hopeful.

A note to Chronicle Canberra readers. Next edition: Tuesday, 13 January


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