Ady Gil Sinks in Southern Ocean -- An Exclusive Interview With Captain Chuck Swift of the Sea Shepherd Vessel Bob Barker

For the past six years, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society under the leadership of Captain Paul Watson, has launched an annual campaign in the Southern Ocean to prevent the Japanese Whaling fleet from killing whales. Every year, the Japanese send a fleet of ships to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary to kill and process for human consumption a large number of whales using a loophole in the International Whaling Treaty which allows for "scientific research." The governments of Australia and New Zealand, along with numerous environmental organizations, have decried the Japanese whaling activities and called for an end to the practice to no avail. Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) have engaged the Japanese fleet using non-violent methods to hamper their ability to conduct whaling activities. Their efforts have successfully prevented the Japanese Whaling Fleet from achieving its stated quota of whale kills and increasingly made the costs of the whaling operations a significant economic loss for the Japanese.

This past Wednesday, in the bitter cold waters of the remote Southern Ocean, the Japanese whaling security ship the
Shonan Maru No. 2
collided with the SSCS high-tech stealth vessel the
Ady Gil
, thereby cutting it in two. Video footage shot from the nearby SSCS ship the
Bob Barker
(named after celebrated game-show host and SSCS supporter Bob Barker), would seem to show the Shonan Maru 2 deliberately changing course turning into the
Ady Gil
and causing the devastating collision. This action directly threatened the lives of everyone on board the
Ady Gil
-- humans can only survive in the extreme cold of the Antarctic waters for a very short period of time. The six crew members on board the
Ady Gil
were successfully rescued by small craft dispatched from the
Bob Barker
with minor physical injuries but serious emotional trauma. The
Ady Gil
sank today in the Southern Ocean as it was being towed to a French research base after its tow lines broke. Captain Pete Bethune removed all potential contaminants (fuel, batteries, and oil) before the ship sank.
I spoke with Chuck Swift, Captain of the SSCS Bob Barker by satellite phone.

How is it in the Southern Ocean today, given this week's dramatic events?

We're doing remarkably well considering everything that the organization -- specifically our vessels down here in the Antarctic have been dealing with the last couple of days.

Morale is good?

Morale is good in general. We still have six guys that went through a very harrowing experience and there's some serious issues to deal with, some of them are getting headaches and not sleeping well. What happened was traumatic and the physical injuries [are minor] -- we have one person with two cracked ribs. But the potential for loss of life or major injuries was very real. These guys are at a point now where, I was talking to one of them about an hour ago and he said it was literally a near-death experience. He kind of has a new perspective now. He said he doesn't care about his job. "I don't care about my car, I don't care about my house anymore. I just want be back with the ones I love."

Did the Shonan Maru No. 2 offer any assistance whatsoever to anyone there after the collision?

No. In fact the Ady Gil, when it was hit, sent out a Mayday. We weren't sure how quickly it was going to sink, and they [the crew] weren't either. I was watching from the bridge of this vessel and so he [Ady Gil Captain Pete Bethune] got off his radio. He was standing up off the back and we turned around, launched small boats, and went and started getting them. My First Officer and myself both immediately took up the Mayday and continued broadcasting on their behalf. The Japanese fleet had two vessels right next to us at that time and it took ten minutes of our contacting them and saying "Do you understand the situation we are in -- do you understand the difference between our throwing stink bombs onto your vessel and your running over one of ours and endangering human life? Do you understand the significance and will you now answer our Mayday?" It took ten minutes of kind of yelling into the radio to get any response and according to maritime law they are required to reply and offer assistance. The only answer we ever really got was "Yes." They acknowledged the Mayday.

The ships continued on course and made no effort to assist?

They stopped near us. That same vessel that ran us over, the Shonan Maru No. 2 is still tailing us, in fact. We suspected that they had two vessels on us because they anticipate our possible meeting with the Steve Irwin (SSCS flagship) and they would have a tail for us and a tail for them. But they are still following us as we are now underway.

The Ady Gil sank today?

The Ady Gil sank at 4:20 in the morning, Actually that's when we left it. I was still awake about 3:00 in the morning and I felt a change in the way the ship was moving and went back there and saw that Ady Gil was no longer being towed by us so we quickly turned the vessel around and went back and came up along side it. It was a third submerged and this is a vessel where the vast majority of it by design stays out of the water. I looked at that and saw that just by the way it was sitting that the engine room was under water and the main fuel tank was under water and neither one of those would have happened if they weren't full of seawater. I basically made the call and said, This vessel is sinking. It was deep enough in the water that to think of towing it was really unrealistic.

I had no doubt it would be sinking and submerging itself fully within a short period of time. I am the captain of this vessel: the Ady Gil is a very specialized kind of ship, so I went and I got Pete Bethune who built this thing, sailed around the world and set a record for circumnavigation, and was our captain on it for our mission down here. He concurred -- he said, "Oh yeah -- if it's that far underneath it should be going down in the next two to four hours." So at that point I did not see the value in sitting around watching it submerge completely because our primary mission down here is to find and shut down illegal Japanese whaling operations so we spent a few minutes looking at it, took some pictures and got back underway.

The Japanese are spending additional resources this year in an effort to contain the Bob Barker and the Steve Irwin and prevent you from interfering with the main fleets whaling mission -- the "scientific research." At what point will they call it quits?

2010-01-08-news_100107_1_AdyGilsinking_01.jpg
Ady Gil sinking; Photo Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

I wish I knew that because we are trying to push them to that point. I am in the situation now where our one vessel is being followed by probably at least two of theirs, and we are largely made up of volunteers -- they have to pay their crews and just the operational costs are enormous. So whether or not we are able to find the factory ship again, I am calling it a success because if they have two or three of their vessels on ours and just a few days ago we were chasing the factory ship and the Bob Barker was surrounded by four of their hunter-killer spotter vessels, that's an enormous financial drain on them. I don't honestly know at what point they're going to call it quits but I can guarantee you that we are going to keep pushing them until they go over that point.

Will you seek any reparations from the Japanese for the loss of the Ady Gil?

I would like to see the organization (SSCS) go that route. I would like to see us press legal charges against them. As far as I am concerned, for the last bunch of years the Japanese waved their nose at everybody and proven their willingness to kill endangered marine life in violation of international conservation law. Just a couple of days ago now they proved that at least some of them -- I want to be careful and not blame everyone in Japan and especially not everyone in the Japanese whaling fleet -- but certainly some of those people seem capable of and willing of endangering human life. It's a violation of the law, in addition to all of the moral and ethical values attached to that. So yes I would like to see us press charges and I would like to see us pursue financial compensation from them.

Do you think the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will follow though on his statement that if the International Whaling Commission does not take significant forward movement on this issue that Australia will pursue legal action?

I don't know if he will or not but I can tell you that I would very much like to see him follow through on that.

I think what's happening here can be made analogous to what's happening in our culture. I think that we need to not only think about endangered whales and enforcing the law here but we need to think about overall patterns of consumption and what we're eating and what we're wearing and we're buying and building with and thinking about how to do it sustainably in accordance with the long-term health of the planet and all of the species involved - human and otherwise. If we move even a little bit father in that direction I think that not only the whales and the humans but all the other species would benefit greatly.