Whaling activist admits trespassing
Conservationist pleads guilty to boarding Japanese ship but says he had "good reason".
Last Modified: 27 May 2010 05:33 GMT
Peter Bethune admitted to boarding the Shonan Maru 2 but denied an assault charge [EPA]

An anti-whaling activist from New Zealand has pleaded guilty to trespassing on a Japanese whaling ship.

Peter Bethune, a member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, admitted on Thursday that he climbed on board the Shonan Maru 2, a Japanese whaling ship, during a protest in Antarctic waters in February.

Besides the trespassing charge, he pleaded guilty in a Tokyo court to charges of destruction of property, illegal possession of a knife and obstruction of business, but said he had "good reason to do so".

He denied a fifth charge of assault.

Bethune could face up to 15 years in jail if convicted.

Bethune, 45, had said he wanted to make a citizen's arrest of the ship's Japanese captain and hand over a $3m bill for the destruction of a protest ship that sank after an earlier confrontation with the Japanese whaling vessel.

Prosecutors say Bethune threw glass bottles with acid that exploded on the Japanese ship, injuring a crew member and obstructing the whaling mission.

"I admit that I boarded the Shonan Maru 2 but I believe that I have good reason to do so," he said during the proceedings.

"I admit that I fired the butyric acid, but there were additional circumstances that we will discuss in court."

Bethune was handcuffed and had a rope tied around his waste as he was ushered into the courtroom.

Protests and confrontations

Outside the court, a group of about 30 pro-whaling activists staged a protest.

Protesters gathered outside the Tokyo court to criticise anti-whaling activists [Reuters]

Confrontations between the Sea Shepherd's boats and Japanese vessels have at times turned violent, forcing Japan's Antarctic whaling mission in recent years to return home with only half its catch quota of some 900 whales.

Japan joins Norway and Iceland in hunting whales under various exceptions to a 1986 moratorium by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

Opponents say Japan's research whaling programme is a cover for commercial hunts and have singled it out for strong protests.

Japan's programme involves large-scale expeditions to the Antarctic, while other whaling countries mostly stay along their coasts.

Excess meat is sold in Japan for consumption, available through limited outlets such as special whale restaurants and public school lunch programmes.

The IWC, in a bid to resolve a deep divide between pro-whaling nations and their opponents, last month issued a proposal that would in effect allow the whaling countries to resume commercial hunts, though under strict quotas set by the commission.

Japan accuses conservationists of endangering the lives of whalers and is also seeking to arrest Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson over his role in the Antarctic confrontation.

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