At 6 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 9, a telephone call from Plymouth, England, awakened environmentalist Paul Watson in his Vancouver apartment. The caller said only, “We have two on the bottom,” then hung up. Watson immediately knew the meaning of the message: a team from his militant animal-protection group, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, had succeeded in sinking two whaling ships in Reykjavik, Iceland.
It was several hours before authorities in Reykjavík realized what had happened. At 5 a.m. that day a watchman noticed that one of three whaling ships docked in the harbor was sitting low in the water. Within an hour two of the 430-ton vessels were sitting partially submerged on the shallow harbor bottom. Initially, police suspected an accident. But divers found that saboteurs had deliberately sunk the ships by unscrewing 14 bolts fastening steel plates to the inside of the hull. The next day employees of a plant where whale meat is processed, 80 km from Reykjavik, arrived to find that computer equipment and machinery had been destroyed with sledgehammers and acid.
Watson quickly claimed responsibility for both incidents. The Sea Shepherd leader, linked to the sinking of two Spanish whaling ships in 1980, said that two members of his group had worked in Iceland’s fishing industry while planning the operation. Their goal: to halt what Sea Shepherd con-
siders illegal whaling by Iceland.
The action outraged Icelandic leaders. “The saboteurs are regarded by the Icelandic government as terrorists,” said Prime Minister Steingrimur Hermannsson. “All efforts will be made to get the people responsible for this inhuman act.” Later police issued arrest warrants for Rodney Coronado of Morgan Hill, Calif., and a man using the alias of David Howard of Plymouth. But they did not act directly to prosecute Watson.
In New York, where he was met by Watson, Coronado said that the saboteurs did everything possible to prevent injuries. “I cannot see how they’re accusing me of terrorism when all I sought to do was protect life,” he said. “If anything, the Sea Shepherd team stopped terrorism by Iceland.” In 1982 Iceland agreed to abide by a decision of the International Whaling Commission to suspend commercial whaling from 1986 to 1990. But it was allowed to catch 200 whales a year for scientific purposes. Said Watson, 35: “They are trying to say they’re killing whales for research, but the whale meat is being sold to Japan.”
Watson said that it will take Iceland’s whaling industry two years to recover financially from last week’s attacks. But if the country continues to break the law, Watson added, “who’s to say they won’t be hit again?”
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.