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Pete Bethune's comment on his release back to NZ

Tokyo, Japan, Wednesday 7 July 2010

Environmentalist and anti-whaling campaigner, Pete Bethune, gets suspended sentence

“All I wanted was justice for the loss of my boat, the Ady Gil, and the attempted murder of my crew.”

The trial in Japan of environmentalist and anti-whaling campaigner, Pete Bethune, 45, reached its conclusion today (Wednesday 7 July).

At 13.30 JST, amidst tight security, the Japanese court handed down a two year suspended sentence and banned him from Japan for five years. During his trial, Bethune accepted four of the charges but strenuously refuted the charge of injuring a Japanese crewman, insisting that the man injured himself using his own pepper spray.

Bethune, who before he joined the anti-whaling campaign, broke the official global circumnavigation speed record in 2008 with his boat, then known as Earthrace, using only 100% biofuel, is being deported back to New Zealand later today.

After the verdict, he said: “I am very relieved and thankful at the decision from the Japanese court and immensely grateful to my legal team here in Japan. I am truly sorry for all the trouble and worry this has caused my family and am desperate to get back home to see them. I also want to thank all the supporters world-wide who have been sending messages and signing petitions, and the media, who have been keeping this story in the public eye.”

Pete was in court to defend himself against charges that arose after he boarded the Shonan Maru #2, a Japanese whaling vessel, to perform a citizen’s arrest warrant on the captain for ramming and sinking the Ady Gil in the Southern Ocean in January this year.

“All I did was to board the boat that I feel deliberately attacked and sunk my vessel. I wanted justice for the loss of my boat and the attempted murder of my crew. I still want justice, and I strongly urge the Australian and New Zealand Maritime Authorities to continue putting pressure on the Japanese whalers to cooperate with their investigations into the collision.”

Sharyn Bethune, Pete’s wife, said from New Zealand: “We are delighted with the verdict and can’t wait to see him. It’s been terribly hard for his two girls, Danielle and Alycia, but we are all very proud that Pete has continually stood up for what he believes in. I think the girls might lock him up in the garage for the foreseeable future to stop him getting himself into trouble again, but knowing Pete, I dare say he’d get himself out and have a new project within weeks.”

As far back as 2005, Pete Bethune was concerned enough about the environment to drive forward the concept of the initial design of Earthrace, and find the funds to build it (at great personal cost to himself and his family). He motivated a huge team of volunteers and supporters around the world and finally succeeded in breaking the global circumnavigation speed record in order to increase awareness of the need for renewable fuels and sustainable living.

Not content with that, he then put himself and his boat forward to take part in another environmental campaign, this time against the whaling industry in the Southern Ocean. It was this dedication that so impressed US-based Ady Gil, Founder of American Hi Definition (AHD), that he made the $1 million donation that helped enable Sea Shepherd to include the then re-named ‘Ady Gil’ within their fleet of ships.

Speaking from his home in California, Ady said, “I know how highly emotional and very distressed Pete was at the loss of the boat. He felt strongly that the ramming of the boat was an unnecessarily aggressive move from a very large vessel that appeared to aim itself deliberately at his much smaller boat, putting his life and the lives of his crew in danger.

“Pete is a man of action, and after the Ady Gil was sunk, he felt he had to do something, so he took what he felt was the appropriate action and boarded the other vessel in an attempt to peacefully present the captain of the Shonan Maru #2 with a letter of complaint about the incident.

“It’s subsequently become clear that Pete made the right choice. There can’t have been many occasions where a vessel hits and sinks another vessel in the full glare of the media spotlight where one of the captains is arrested, held prisoner and left facing a potential 15 year sentence in jail, whilst the other has yet to be officially questioned about his actions.

“The Shonan Maru #2 was certainly the bigger boat, but Pete is the bigger man. It never seemed right that Pete was in jail and I congratulate the Japanese court for making the correct decision and sending him home. Keeping a man like Pete in jail would have been a crime against humanity in itself. As to whether there will ever be another ‘Ady Gil’, we’ll have to wait and see.”

Speaking from London, Fiona Clark, who was CEO of the Earthrace project, and now works as CEO for a UK-based youth charity, said: “It was Pete’s determination and commitment that got the team around the world with Earthrace. We are still shocked at the loss of our amazing boat and the way in which it happened. Someone needs to be held to account for that, but right now, we are just elated that Pete has been released.”

“None of the Earthrace team were surprised that he threw himself into the campaign against the whalers with such passion, and we’re sure he’ll have spent the last few months planning new ways of helping to protect the environment.”



Photos of Earthrace and the Ady Gil available here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/officialearthrace/


27 June 2008: ‘Earthrace’, skippered by Pete Bethune, breaks the official round the world speed record using 100% biofuel
17 October 2009: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) unveil Earthrace, now re-named ‘Ady Gil’ as the newest member of their anti-whaling fleet for ‘Operation Waltzing Matilda’ in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary
22 December 2009: ‘Ady Gil’ arrives in Antarctica
5 January 2010: Japanese whaling vessel, ‘Shonan Maru #2’ rams ‘Ady Gil’, slicing her in two
7 January 2010: ‘Ady Gil’ sinks in the Antarctic
15 February: Bethune boards Shonan Maru #2 intending to carry out a citizen's arrest of the ship's captain, Hiroyuki Komiya, and to present him with a US $3m (£2m) bill for the loss of the Ady Gil
He is held as prisoner on board as Shonan Maru #2 returns to Japan
12 March: arrested on arrival in Japan
2 April: Bethune is formally charged with five counts – trespass, causing injuries, forcible obstruction of business, destruction of property and illegal possession of a knife (a pocket knife used by Bethune to cut the anti-boarding net on the Shonan Maru #2)
27 May: trial begins – Bethune accepts four charges, but denies injuring a Japanese crew member
3 June: first phase of trial ends – Bethune awaits sentencing
8 June: Sea Shepherd sever ties with Pete Bethune, saying he is no longer a member or representative of their organisation
7 July: Pete Bethune receives suspended sentence, is banned from Japan for five years and deported back to New Zealand on the same day.

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