Shiver me timbers, boys and girls, we is awash in a sea of pirates down here in the Southern Ocean and it’s time for a parley to do a little ‘splaining on the subject. This ocean now rivals the 17th century Caribbean for reported acts of piracy. The only thing lacking is the Sea Shepherd member Orlando Bloom.
Japanese whalers are accusing the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Greenpeace crew members of being pirates. Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace are accusing the whalers of being pirates. The whalers and Greenpeace are accusing Sea Shepherd of being pirates. The Japanese government is throwing the word piracy about as freely as the governor of Jamaica once did.
No one has sunk any ships, looted any cargos, kidnapped any damsels (just a couple of blokes) or forced anyone to walk the plank yet – but listening to the rhetoric, the public could be forgiven from thinking these activities are ravaging the Southern main.
My ship, the Steve Irwin, does fly a modern version of the Jolie Rouge, the original name of the banner that evolved into the skull and crossbones of the Jolly Roger. We decided years ago that if people were going to call us pirates, we would adopt our own version, and designed the crossed Neptune trident and shepherd’s staff with the skull.
As soon as we hoisted that black flag, kids from around the world began to write to us in support. Our Jolly Roger hats and shirts have become our most popular merchandise. Why? Because there is a romance associated with piracy that is separate from the reality. Some pirates were noble heroes and some were dastardly villains. It’s all a matter of perspective. If you love whales, we be heroes; but if you eat whales then we be pirates.
Back in the 17th century it was not the British navy that shut down piracy in the Caribbean. The military and the politicians were not interested. Piracy was finally shut down in the Spanish Main by the pirate Sir Henry Morgan. It took a pirate to end piracy. His reward was to be appointed governor of Jamaica, where he was able to pilfer more booty through politics than he ever did from the deck of a ship.
There are pirates of profit, like the Japanese; pirates of opportunity, like the politicians; and pirates of compassion, like Sea Shepherd. It is a little difficult to cast Sea Shepherd’s unpaid volunteers, selflessly trying to save the lives of whales, as ruthless pirates.
On the other hand, the Japanese whalers are illegally stealing and killing whales from a sanctuary and territory that is supposed to be under the sovereignty of Australia. The whalers have also taken hostages, demanding conditions for their return.
So why do those pirates in Canberra consistently refuse to protect Australian territory from illegal foreign exploitation? The answer is the same for those politicians today as it was for British politicians in 1650 – there’s money to be made, under the table and through the back door; there are trade agreements to consider; and some pirates – especially the Japanese – have good public relations firms and powerful financial backing. So we have Australia condemning the Japanese and doing very little to stop their whaling fleet’s ruthless plundering.
At least proper piracy has a long list of renowned and admirable practitioners: John Paul Jones, who founded the navies of both the US and Russia; Jean LaFitte, who stood with General Andrew Jackson in defence of New Orleans; and Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh, knighted by Elizabeth I.
I stand in honourable company as a modern-day pirate, though I’ve not shot anyone, burned any ships, looted any cargos or kidnapped anyone. We are also pirates with a sense of humour and a moral code of non-violence. In 30 years of eco-piracy we have never injured a single poacher, though we’ve sent nine whalers to the bottom. Instead of cannon balls, our guns shoot coconut cream and chocolate pie-filling. We toss stink bombs instead of grenades and we are so non-violent we don’t even eat meat or fish on our ships. No fish, fowl or mammals have died in the making of our high seas campaigns.
What we do is defend the whales from illegal slaughter by ruthless and merciless killers. If people want to call us pirates for that, we’re proud to be so. We have whales to save and Japanese ships to attack.
Captain PAUL WATSON is founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society www.seashepherd.org