Whaling Activist in Custody on Japanese Boat

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An anti-whaling activist from New Zealand was in custody on a Japanese vessel and will likely be taken to Japan to face charges after secretly boarding the ship as part of a protest, officials said Tuesday.

Diplomats in New Zealand and Tokyo have been meeting to discuss what to do with Peter Bethune, who jumped aboard the Shonan Maru 2 from a Jet Ski on Monday with the stated goal of making a citizen's arrest of the ship's captain, while handing over a $3 million bill for the destruction of his protest ship last month.

Japan's chief Cabinet secretary said the government was coordinating with other agencies, including the foreign ministry and the coast guard.

Asked whether the whaling vessel would bring Bethune to Japan for questioning, top government spokesman Hirofumi Hirano said: "We are coordinating based on that understanding. We are finalizing details on how to handle this under Japanese law."

The brazen boarding was the latest escalation by the U.S.-based Sea Shepherd activist group meant to hamper the whaling activities of the Japanese.

Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research, which sponsors the whale hunt, said Bethune used a knife to cut the vessel's protective net to enable his boarding and that he told whalers he then threw the knife into the sea. The crew treated him for a cut on his thumb he received while boarding, the institute said.

Japanese Fisheries Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu told reporters he wants the activist handed over to Japan's Coast Guard for investigation. Under Japanese law, intruding on a Japanese vessel without legitimate reasons can bring a prison term of up to three years or a fine up to 100,000 yen (US$1,100).

Bethune was being held in a room by himself with 24-hour guards posted outside, Fisheries Ministry official Toshinori Uoya said.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McClully said it seemed Bethune's intention was to be detained aboard the whaling ship, but the country nevertheless had an obligation to try to help him and was seeking cooperation from Japanese diplomats.

McCully met Japan's ambassador Tuesday, and New Zealand's top diplomat in Japan met senior officials there Monday.

Sea Shepherd said Bethune demanded the cost of replacing the Ady Gil, an activist ship he captained that was destroyed in a collision with the Shonan Maru 2 last month, and the surrender of the whaling ship's captain on attempted murder charges.

The Ady Gil sank after the collision, though there were only minor injuries.

Japan has six whaling ships in Antarctic waters under its scientific whaling program, an allowed exception to the International Whaling Commission's 1986 ban on commercial whaling. It hunts hundreds of mostly minke whales, which are not an endangered species. Whale meat not used for study is sold for consumption in Japan, which critics say is the real reason for the hunts.

The Sea Shepherd sends vessels to confront the fleet each year, trying to block the whalers from firing harpoons and dangling ropes in the water to try to snarl the Japanese ships' propellers.The whalers have responded by firing water cannons and sonar devices meant to disorient the activists.