View Electronic Edition

Neptune's Manifesto

The oceans of the world desperately need some aggressive, committed, passionate, determined pirates-eco-pirates of conscience to stop the ongoing destructive pillaging by the pirates of profit and greed.

The pirates of greed operate on the high seas with impunity, so why not build a navy of the former-an eco-force of environmental privateers, beholden to no corporate interests or state authority?

It was not the British or Spanish Navy that put an end to piracy on the Spanish Main in the seventeenth century. God knows, both navies spent considerable energies and resources in pursuit of that goal, but both failed miserably. Piracy was instead vanquished by an individual-a pirate, Captain Henry Morgan, in fact. For his efforts, he was rewarded with the governorship of Jamaica.

Individuals and non-governmental organizations can triumph where state governments fail because bureaucracy can be dispensed with and expediency can be deployed. Whereas the bureaucratic state is shackled into non-action by the vested interests and conflicting political ambitions of its citizens, a non-governmental organization is fueled by the common interests and passionate desires of its members. A state must include all interests, many of which are in conflict. A non-governmental organization moves ahead by a common interest and seeks a common goal.

If the common goal is also one that nations agree with in principle, if not in practice, then an NGO that reflects this common concern should be at least tolerated, if not actively supported by some nation-states.

There were many in the British and Spanish Empires who profited directly and indirectly from piracy, including many in positions of influence. The advocates in government wishing to end piracy had to wade through the muck of political and corporate corruption, special interests, diplomatic dilemmas, conflicting ambitions, and just plain old bureaucratic red tape.

Captain Morgan, on the other hand, concerned only with his own ambitions, simply got on with the job, and most effectively.

Post-modern Piracy

Today, another form of piracy is practiced on the high seas. The ever-escalating demand for resources is pillaging the planet's oceans.

And because this greater part of the Earth's surface is free of state authority, there is no structure, and no political or policing body that is in a position to defend these resources from high-seas piracy. The world's oceans are an open frontier, with everything up for grabs for those who possess the biggest and best technologies to extract fish, seals, whales, minerals, oil, krill, plankton, or energy. The same holds true for those who view the seas as a dump site for radioactive waste, sewage, toxins, or discarded plastic.

On the high seas, might makes right. It is the only law that exists in practical fact, whereas most international laws exist only in theory. Laws without enforcement are not worth the paper they are written upon. Captain Jacques Cousteau once told me that he believed that the navies of the world should stop playing war games with each other and get down to the real business of protecting the oceans from the greed of humanity.

Of course, navies are merely the tools of nation-states and it is not in the real-politik interest of any nation-state to protect the common heritage for the good of the commons. In the long term, of course, it makes perfect sense, but politics has not been a discipline to concern itself with long-range objectives.

High Sea Frontier Commons

We are stuck with a dilemma. The oceans are being plundered, yet the status quo of international law allows nation-states to choose to disregard any law, even if they have agreed to abide by it.

At present, what we know as international law is merely a collection of agreements by certain nation-states, all of which have no binding force to back up their implementation.

The drafting of the laws is undertaken only by those who are deemed to have "standing" to do so -i.e., representatives of nation-states.

Monitoring of ecological balance, of fish stock or whale populations, is underfunded, biased, or simply ignored for the political convenience of industry or agriculture.

The government of Canada in the early eighties was very much aware of the possibility of the collapse of the northern cod fishery off Newfoundland. Action was continually delayed until the fishery crashed, at which point Canadian Fisheries Minister Brian Tobin launched a public relations ploy that blamed the whole mess on the Spanish, to distract from the incompetence of his own government.

Canada still has refused to learn from its mistakes. This is illustrated by the fact that salmon populations continue to decline off the West Coast under pressure from the large fishing companies and unions that deny the fragility of the species and the ecosystem.

Crimes against ecology are also crimes against humanity. These crimes have been consistently committed by the same nation-states that possess the standing to participate in the formulation of treaties and laws. None of these states will admit to wrongdoing-or if they do, they will certainly not agree to be penalized for their transgressions.

Just a quick trip through a short list of the crimes of some of these nation-states reveals the awesome extent of lawlessness on the world's oceans: Iraq's gross ecological crime of dumping millions of tons of oil into the Persian Gulf; the former Soviet Union's crime of dumping nuclear reactors into the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans; Canada's illegal whaling and incompetent management of both Atlantic and Pacific fisheries; Mexico's slaughter of dolphins and the endorsement of this slaughter by the United States in the interest of trade; Norway's and Japan's blatant violations of the global moratorium on commercial whaling; the drift-netting of the oceans by Taiwan, Korea and Japan, with monstrously long nets; uncontrolled worldwide poaching of marine wildlife; cyanide poisoning of tropical reefs; the operation of unsafe oil tanker traffic by all nations; the unrelenting destruction of wetlands and estuaries.

The litany of threats to the environment is endless and ongoing. The real victims, the generations yet unborn, have no voice to protest and no standing to contest these crimes.

Yet, we have laws to protect the environment. Don't we? Japan and Norway are both members of the International Whaling Commission, and between them they have slaughtered some 18,000 whales since the IWC implemented a global moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986.

We have international conventions like the 1973 convention on vessel-dumping at sea and the 1973 convention for the prevention of pollution by ships, both of which are essentially unenforceable.

Article 192 of the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea provides: "States have the obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment."

These are all words, without adequate measures for enforcement.

One possibility for enforcement is the enactment of national legislation that would impose trade embargoes on offending nations. For example, under regulations of the US Department of Commerce, measures can be taken to sanction nations that do not adhere to the rulings of the International Whaling Commission. Despite this being the law, President Clinton has consistently chosen to ignore the law and has substituted "letters of protest" to offending whaling nations like Norway and Japan. His reasoning is that the issue is not worth upsetting trade relations over. As a result, despite the law, both nations have annually raised their illegal quotas without recriminations from any nation.

Both the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as international treaties render domestic legislation like the US Endangered Species Act subordinate. International trade agreements negate domestic conservation legislation. For this reason, Mexico successfully sued the US under GATT for barring trade in tuna caught by the method of "fishing on porpoise." This in turn forced the US to overturn legislation protecting dolphins from tuna nets.

What all this means is that the future looks bleak for conservation because it will always be forced to take a back seat to the interest of free trade.

Oceanic Range Wars

Of course, as resources are depleted, warfare will become the natural extension of diplomatic discussions. We saw this surface in 1973 with the British and Icelandic cod war when Iceland unilaterally extended its territorial limit to fifty miles. This was the first step toward an international agreement creating the globally recognized 200-mile limit, a measure that was successful because it appealed to the territorial ambitions of all the participating states.

Still, this was not enough. In 1995 Canada fired on the Spanish trawler Estai outside the 200-mile limit to underscore its desire to protect fish that it considered its own regardless of whether said fish might travel across an imaginary line in the water in the course of their migrations. In turn, Spain charged the Canadian Fisheries Minister with piracy, but, like everything else on the high seas, the charges did nothing. The incident furthered the Minister's political ambitions in Canada. Spain carried on fishing as Canada congratulated itself for displaying some rare machismo.

It is interesting to note that it was Canada that arrested me in 1993 for chasing the Cuban fishing fleet off the Tail of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. This was also outside of Canada's 200-mile limit. Nonetheless, as a Canadian citizen, I was put on trial on three counts of felony mischief. Although I did not damage any property or injure any person, Canada attempted to impose two life sentences plus ten years as punishment for having demanded that the Cubans leave the area.

What I had done was no different than what Canada did to the Spanish two years later, except that I did not use force. My trial was held shortly after the Spanish incident, and when my attorney ttempted to compare my actions to those of Canada, the judge ruled that it was improper to compare one criminal action to another criminal action as a precedent. In his summation, the Crown Prosecutor informed the jury that "a message must be sent that interference by citizens with over-fishing must not be tolerated."

Sheriff without a Badge

In other words, it was not my actions that were objectionable, but the fact that the actions were not taken by a representative of the State. Fisheries Minister Brian Tobin was lauded as a hero for doing what I had done-after charging me with the commission of a crime when I did the same thing.

The jury trial did give me the opportunity to defend myself utilizing the United Nations World Charter for Nature.

Specifically, I pleaded that I had acted in accordance with Principle 21 Section (e) of the Charter, which reads:

"States, and, to the extent they are able, other public authorities, international organizations, individuals, groups and corporations shall:

"...(e) Safeguard and conserve nature in areas beyond national jurisdiction."

Canada sent a legal expert to my trial to argue that although Canada had indeed signed the World Charter for Nature, the Charter was not to be considered as a defense for actions under Canadian law. My lawyer successfully argued that if Canada signed the Charter, then Canada agreed with the Charter.

Canada informed me that I was responsible for some thirty-five million dollars in lost revenue to the Cubans. All I could see was the vast number of fish this represented and considered it a victory.

I have been operating under the World Charter's stipulation for many years. The same spirit that brought it into being compelled me to set up the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society-not as a protest organization but as an enforcement organization to uphold international laws and treaties.

I began this endeavor in 1977, five years before the Charter came into existence, but it was in anticipation of the need for the Charter that I did so. In 1982, the Charter simply gave us some legal authority to act.

I confess to being a pirate. Since 1979, we have sunk nine outlaw whaling ships and have rammed numerous illegal drift netters and tuna boats. In doing so, we are complying with the law, as defined by the UN General Assembly in 1982: States, and, to the extent that they are able, other public authorities, international organizations, individuals, groups and corporations shall safeguard and conserve nature in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

This is our letter of marque from the United Nations.

It is interesting to note just how much of a threat this makes us. As the only organization that has enforced the rulings of the International Whaling Commission, we are the only organization banned from attending the meetings of the IWC. This was at Iceland's insistence.

In 1988, I turned myself in to Icelandic authorities in Reykjavik to answer charges brought over our scuttling of half the Icelandic whaling fleet in November 1986. Not only did Iceland refuse to lay charges against me, they deported me the next day. They knew that to put me on trial would be to put themselves on trial. In 1990 and 1992, I rammed and disabled Japanese drift net vessels in the North Pacific. We documented the ramming and challenged Japan to lay charges. They did not. They could not because they themselves were acting illegally.

It is important to understand that we are not advocating the enforcement of our philosophy against any random target. The IWC is the only international body empowered by participating nation-states to draft whale conservation regulations. According to Article 65 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, states shall cooperate with a view to the conservation of marine mammals, and in the case of cetaceans, shall in particular work through the appropriate international organization for their conservation, management, and study.

The UN Conference on the Environment and Development in Rio De Janiero in 1992 further reinforced this ruling by recognizing the IWC as the legitimate body overseeing whale conservation regulations.

The Rio document called Agenda 21 also gave reinforcement to the World Charter for Nature by stating: "Governments and legislators should establish judicial and administrative procedures for legal redress and remedy of actions affecting environment and development that may be unlawful or infringe on rights under the law, and should provide access to individuals, groups, and organizations with a recognized legal interest."

Sea Shepherd activities have served only to enforce rulings that nations have arrogantly chosen to disregard.

True, we don't always stick to areas beyond national jurisdiction. We did sink the whalers in port, when no one was on board, so as to not risk injury to their crew. But we were enforcing an international moratorium against nations that had agreed to abide by the rulings of the IWC, and we were protecting a species that was not restricted to the territorial waters of the offending state.

It may be argued that our actions are undemocratic (though many of the nations that are signatory to treaties are non-democratic). I feel that our actions are democratic in the extreme, because we represent a far greater constituency. We act on behalf of all other species and on behalf of thousands of unborn human generations. Our great democracies represent only a small planetary minority-people-and only of this generation, and generally excluding children, and, of course, excluding the millions of other species that also are entitled to rights on this planet.

Neptune's Navy

As a small organization, our actions have been effective but restricted. There is a need to build an aggressive international oceanic policing force that is answerable to no particular government but is answerable to the commons in principle. There really is no reason why this cannot be done.

A non-governmental organization has as much right to operate on the high seas as any government. Instead of citizens, this organization would have contributing members who fund an enforcement body and empower them to uphold existing laws, conventions, treaties, regulations, and agreements despite the protests of the participating signatories.

This "Neptunian Tribunal" would not create laws but would simply enforce existing laws already agreed upon by nation-states. The World Charter for Nature provides the authority for individuals and organizations to act in this manner, limited only to the "extent that they are able."

I would envision this organization as a worldwide web of contacts that would monitor and communicate relevant information on all activities that transgress against established law. Armed with this information, the organization would then deploy either covert tactical units or overt police force where it is needed. Because enforcement vessels may be designated as pirates and targeted as such (opening an interesting ethical debate as to why "conservation pirates" would be targeted and "corporate pirates" would not), I would advocate for a fleet of submarines. They would be difficult to locate and difficult to attack. They would remain at sea in international waters on a permanent basis. Repairs could be achieved either by a floating dry dock or in a nation that agrees to allow operations within its territory. Crew changes and refueling could take place at sea.

In this way, the vessels would be unflagged and not subject to the laws of any one nation. (The Law of Admiralty or Maritime Law is confined primarily to shipping. Its jurisdiction is in practice relegated to the territoriality of the nation where any charges have been formulated. It is not applicable to the high seas.)

We have the communications technology to make this work. Instantaneous worldwide communication is a reality. We have concerned, skilled, willing participants. All that is really needed is the organization to bring it all together to finance and deploy it.

What I envision is an independent naval force: Neptune's Navy.

I have already laid the groundwork with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

After all our activities over the last twenty years, I have been called many things, but I am not a convicted criminal. There is a big difference between being called a terrorist by an outlaw whaler and being a terrorist in the eyes of the law.

When Sea Shepherd purchased a submarine in 1994, a spokesperson for the Canadian Navy said that it was ridiculous for a conservation organization to have a submarine. He laughingly dismissed us as not knowing what to do with a submarine. "What sort of experience do these people have anyway?" he thundered.

I had to respond that since World War II, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has sunk more ships, boarded more ships, and rammed more ships than the Canadian Navy. Our level of in-the-field tactical experience exceeds that of the Canadian Navy. The tactical forces that we have deployed to sink whalers are trained military special forces from various nations. We have lawyers, doctors, engineers, navigators, pilots, electricians, and special ops people.

There is really no reason why we cannot stand up and enforce the law against international ecological piracy. We have the means under international law, we have the skills. We only require the will, the finances, and the courage to act.

It is important to proceed against violations with maximum restraint. Every effort should be implemented to ensure against causing injury to crews employed in illegal actions on the high seas. For this reason, the primary enforcement tools should be non-lethal tactics and hardware. The objective is interference, intervention, disruption, and intimidation, utilizing vessels, electronics, and, most importantly, documentation.

We contemplate, for instance, the sinking of trashed and torn up junked cars off the Grand Bank. First, of course, we'd burn them to get rid of toxics; then sink them in international waters where they would most likely cut up the trawler nets and, at the same time, provide shelter and habitat for the fish.

Deepsea Interpol

At the moment, the most important weapon that can be deployed to ensure that the plundering of the high seas does not take place, out of sight and out of mind, is the camera.

Information could be gathered from a variety of sources, but primarily from an international network of field representatives. We are presently doing this with Norwegian whaling. We have a network of dozens of Norwegian citizens who file reports on the movements of whaling vessels, their takes, and vulnerabilities. These informants can be both paid and volunteer. Field agents would also assist with special operations agents when needed for support and cover.

Although covert operations would be employed, all activities would be publicly acknowledged. It is important that the public be informed at all times that these actions are required to uphold existing laws and are not acts of political or philosophical protest. If I thought that it would be practical to advocate for the United Nations or another representative body of nation-states to create such an enforcement body, I would not hesitate to support such a proposal. However, since the record of international cooperation on this enforcement issue is non-existent, and considering the duplicity of nation-states in appeasing corporate or national interests above the spirit of international cooperation, I believe the solution must be non-governmental.