Canadian coast guard seizes anti-seal hunt boat
MONTREAL (AFP) — The Canadian coast guard seized a boat belonging to opponents of seal hunting Saturday, the fisheries minister said, in a move described by the organization as an "act of war."
"The government of Canada has taken action to protect the safety and livelihoods of Canadian sealers by boarding and seizing the Farley Mowat to arrest its captain and chief officer for alleged violations of Canada's Marine Mammal Regulations," said fishing minister Loyola Hearn.
The owner of the Farley Mowat, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, countered that the boat had been "attacked" by two coast guard ice-breakers while in international waters in the Saint Lawrence gulf.
"This is an act of war," said the society's founder, Paul Watson.
"The Canadian government has just sent an armed boarding party onto a Dutch-registered yacht in international waters and has seized the ship."
But Hearn said in a press conference that the boat was captured in "Canadian internal waters," and he accused Watson's organization of being "a bunch of money-sucking manipulators" intent on taking money from donors.
Watson said the vessel's mission was to document evidence of cruelty by seal hunters to support a European motion to ban seal products.
"The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has just handed us the victory that we were looking for," he said.
"The Europeans will not be very pleased with this move."
The seizure of the Farley Mowat came after a series of close encounters between seal hunters, the coast guard and the anti-hunt protesters.
On March 30 the Sea Shepherd vessel collided with a coast guard icebreaker in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and while there was no reported damage, Alex Cornelissen, captain of the Farley Mowat, said in a statement his vessel was "twice rammed" after he ignored warnings not to approach sealers.
And later fishermen sympathetic to the seal hunters cut the vessel's mooring lines while it was docked in the French isles of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon off Canada's east coast.
The annual commercial seal hunt, which opened March 28 in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, is often marked by confrontations between animal rights protesters and the hunters and Canadian authorities.
The Canadian authorities last week launched legal action against Cornelissen, accusing him of getting too close to seal hunters and obstructing the coast guard's work.
His assistant, Peter Hammarstedt, also faces charges and Hearn said both men risked fines of 100,000 dollars and six months in jail.
Watson angered many early this month when he said that the death of four Canadian hunters at sea in an accident on the second day of the hunt was lass a tragedy that the killing of the baby seals.
The fisheries ministry meanwhile said the number of boats taking part in the first fortnight of the hunt is markedly down on previous years, despite an increase of the fixed quota for the hunt to 275,000 seals from last year's 270,000.
Local media attribute the change to rising oil costs and lower prices for seal fur.
But the opponents of the hunt said it was a result of their protests.
"Our efforts to close (seal product) markets around the world are clearly having an impact," said Rebecca Aldworth of the Humane Society.