Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sea Shepherds’ Expanding Fleet and the Militarization of Maritime Eco-activism

Could this be the Sea Shepherd's new ship?
As their leader flees to an undisclosed location from his house arrest in Germany, the Sea Shepherds have begun fitting out a new addition to their fleet, courtesy of a generous donation from cartoon king, Sam Simon.    Captain Paul Watson notes that the identity of this new ship, a former German government-owned vessel is “classified,” although we know she will be named after her donor.  According to another article, the ship is a former German icebreaker.  From this source, the ship is likely the ex-East German Stephan Jantzen.  Although slow, the ship would bring the ice hardening and endurance to make it useful in Antarctic waters.  And with modifications, the ship could carry a second helicopter, which according to Watson, will enhance the fleet's scouting capabilities.  Another possible candidate - my guess - is this former North Sea search and research vessel, which features a helo deck, a stern ramp for rapid launch of a RHIB, and a powerful fighter fighting system for "offensive" use against the Japanese whalers. We will have to wait until the next Southern Ocean counter-whaling campaign kicks of to find out for sure.


Season 5 of Whale Wars, a key element of SSCS' clever media campaign, wrapped up earlier this summer.  I only watched a couple of episodes, but it seemed that the level of aggression and potential for injury had increased on both the side of the Shepherds and the Japanese.  This escalation is a natural progression in this sort of direct action campaign, and not only drives cable ratings (and donations to the cause), but results in each side innovating and improving their TTPs. 

Paul Watson isn't only conservationist busy this summer acquiring new vessels.  Former SSCS Ady Gil Skipper Pete Bethune is expanding his organization’s own portfolio and fleet.  What is most interesting from an irregular warfare perspective is the way that Bethune, who is currently in a legal kerfuffle with Watson, portrays his organization.  His website discusses their testing of a FLIR-equipped  "amphibious assault craft," a new UAV (see previous posts here on Sea Shepherd's pioneering use of unmanned aircraft), and the use of combat-experienced advisors.  Also note the crews sporting aquaflauge in the UAV test video below.



"Pete Bethune, who will captain ‘Sealegs’, brought in several members of his unit who have served in the US Navy Seals to help develop the craft. "These guys have been in many maritime combat situations, and they were invaluable in developing the vessel to make it tactically more effective. We changed the vessel layout, the masthead, the electronics, levels of redundancy. The result is a real beast that we believe sets a new benchmark for amphibious assault vessels."
These developments appear to reflect the growing militarization in language, tactics, and equipment, of maritime eco-activists.  By my count -- with Greenpeace, SSCS, and Earthrace -- three maritime conservation organizations are now involved with direct action.   In spite of their well-intentioned motivations, one of the many features these groups have in common with terrorist groups is that they adapt and often splinter-off from each other.  To wit, SSCS founder Paul Watson broke off from Greenpeace as he felt they weren't aggressive enough and now Bethune is taking Oceanrace in his own direction.  The line between these conservation organizations and non-state maritime actors with more malign intentions will likely continue to blur. 
The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the US Navy, or any other agency.

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