OTTAWA (Reuters) - The seizure by Canadian officials of a ship that was protesting the annual seal hunt off Canada’s East Coast is a welcome move because of the publicity it will give the cause, a high-profile campaigner said on Monday.
Canadian authorities detained the vessel, called the Farley Mowat, on Saturday, saying they feared it could endanger the lives of seal hunters working on ice floes. Ottawa will allow hunters to shoot or club to death 275,000 young seals this year.
Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which owns the ship, said the vessel was outside Canada’s 12-mile (19-km) territorial limit at the time, and described the arrest as an act of war.
Ottawa has long had troubled relations with animal rights activists seeking to film graphic shots of what they say is a barbaric practice that should be banned.
Watson denied the idea that the Farley Mowat had endangered the sealers.
“We’re armed with cameras and those cameras are very threatening to the Canadian government,” he said.
Watson said that before the annual seal hunt had begun he had predicted that the best thing that could happen for the anti-sealing campaign was if officials stormed the vessel in international waters.
“I said at the time I didn’t that think (Federal Fisheries Minister Loyola) Hearn would be so stupid as to do that. Well, I guess he proved me wrong,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
“I think he’s made our campaign. Our objective this year was to get evidence on the inhumane killing of seals,” he said, accusing Ottawa of engaging in piracy.
Watson’s comments were made before he posted a C$10,000 bail to free the ship’s captain and first officer. He said he intended to pay half the bail in two-dollar coins, which would represent pirates’ booty.
Canada said last week it had charged the captain and first officer of the Farley Mowat for getting too close to the hunters and for obstructing fisheries officers.
“This boat had come into our waters. It was asked to leave. They went in and out a couple of times. Then came in and approached our sealers within a few, actually a few feet,” Hearn told reporters on Monday.
“They put their lives in danger and this is according to the sealers, not me ... Paul Watson hasn’t saved one solitary seal but he’s put a lot of money into his own pocket.”
Last month, four hunters died when their vessel hit ice and capsized in the icy waters as it was being towed by a Coast Guard vessel.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway