Sea Shepherd

Controversial marine conservationists


Two ships belonging to the environmental organization “Sea Shepherd” are in the industrial port until mid-June. They should be made fit for their next assignments here.

“If someone beats a dog on the street, you would go and push the person aside.”

An unusually high number of people are standing at Gate 3 in the industrial harbor, many of them wearing a skull with a crossed harpoon and grappling hook on their jackets and bags: the logo of the environmental organization “Sea Shepherd Conservation Society”. She makes a stop in Bremen, more precisely two of her ships. While the “Bob Barker” has been in the industrial port since last Monday, the “Sam Simon” reached Bremen on Friday morning. Both were most recently deployed in Antarctica to take action against illegal fishing.

A total of seven ships belong to the fleet of the global non-profit organization, which is described as militant. Sea Shepherd was founded in 1977 by Paul Watson after he left Greenpeace. Unlike Greenpeace, where activists work in many areas for environmental protection, Sea Shepherd has dedicated itself exclusively to marine protection, especially the fight against whaling and seal hunting.

During the campaign that has just ended, the activists gathered evidence against suspected poaching vessels. One of them, the “Thunder”, has been followed by the “Bob Barker” for 110 days, according to Sea Shepherd. The trawler that Interpol was looking for sank, and environmentalists rescued the crew. While the “Thunder” captain claims his ship was damaged by a freighter, Sea Shepherd believes it was deliberately sunk to destroy evidence. “All hatches were open and additionally fastened to accelerate the sinking,” says Sven Mathiessen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Germany.

Now the two ships are being prepared for their next missions in Bremen, “six weeks are estimated for this,” says Mathiessen. Smaller repair work is to be done, the ships’ machines are to be completely overhauled. In addition, says Matthiesen, there are still 72 kilometers of nets on board the “Sam Simon”. The “Thunder” left behind in the Antarctic. The nets are to be taken off board in the next few days.

According to a Canadian study from 2006, exploitation of the oceans will cause all currently exploited edible fish and seafood stocks to collapse to such an extent that they can no longer recover by 2048 – unless countermeasures are taken quickly. “”There are fishing quotas and regulations, but nobody pays attention to them on the high seas,” says Mathiessen.

Sea Shepherd is documenting the violations and wants to make illegal fishing more difficult through their presence and through sometimes controversial actions. Because the organization is not always as peaceful as it was when it was last done. Activists sometimes throw bottles filled with butyric acid, a kind of stink bomb, on ships of the Japanese whaling fleet to make working on deck impossible. They also try to block the propellers using ropes studded with metal parts. They have even rammed poachers or whaling ships to chop off the winds that haul in the fishing nets. “If someone beats a dog on the street, you would also go and push the person aside,” Mathiessen defends the actions. In addition, be careful not to injure anyone during the actions.

The organization also had to take criticism because it christened one of its boats – which also stopped in Bremen at the end of March – with the name “Brigitte Bardot”: the French actress and animal rights activist was convicted several times for inciting racial hatred and is with one Married member of the right-wing populist party “Front National”. Nevertheless, Sea Shepherd named a trimaran after her in 2011, which was bought with money from the Brigitte Bardot Foundation. In 2012 Sea Shepherd Germany distanced itself “unequivocally from any racist and right-wing populist statements made by Brigitte Bardot”, but the global organization did not. “Sea Shepherd is a movement that operates independently in the individual countries,” explains Mathiessen. That is why there was no name change.

Nevertheless, many people from Bremen want to visit the “Bob Barker” – the “Sam Simon” cannot be entered until next weekend. In addition to the two dinghies, which are often used in the Sea Shepherd campaigns, visitors can examine the bridge and, below deck, the life rafts of the “Thunder”. “We gave full steam for five or six hours,” says Mathiessen at the end of the day, “in total there must have been several hundred visitors.” The ships are to be reopened for tours over the coming weekends.

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