Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Activists, Coast Guard Clash Over Seal Hunt

Always a tense time in Atlantic Canada, this year's seal hunt has proved no exception, with a conservation group clashing with the Canadian Coast Guard in the Gulf of St. Lawrence just three days into the annual seal hunt. On Sunday, the coast guard icebreaker Des Groseilliers collided with the Farley Mowat, a ship owned by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon warned the militant group earlier in the month that the ship was believed to be in contravention of international maritime laws and should not enter Canadian waters. But the ship came anyway, with the society claiming the Farley Mowat is a registered yacht and not subject to the same laws as commercial vessels. On Monday, the activists' ship and the coast guard reported different versions of the same incident. The conservation group claimed its ship was rammed twice by the 98-metre icebreaker, but a spokesperson for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans told The Canadian Press the Farley Mowat actually "grazed" the icebreaker twice. Allegations that the Farley Mowat was rammed are "absolutely false," said DFO spokesperson Phil Jenkins.
The Farley Mowat, owned by The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Des Groseilliers are shown in this handout photo.
"We completely reject these allegations -- they are fiction,'' Jenkins told The Canadian Press from Charlottetown. "The Farley Mowat approached the Des Groseilliers and brushed up against the side of the vessel." But the Sea Shepherd Society claims the ship was told to stay away from the area where seals were being hunted, and when they failed to comply, the ship was rammed. "It rammed the stern end of the Farley Mowat and when the Farley Mowat was stopped, it came back and hit them again,'' Paul Watson, head of the society, told CP from Los Angeles. "It was twice so it was intentional." A news release from the organization described the coast guard's behaviour as "reckless." "The coast guard has demonstrated extreme recklessness with this move. The crew of the Farley Mowat were engaged in documenting the slaughter of seals. They were not interfering with the hunt." The news release vowed the Farley Mowat will remain in the region to continue documenting the seal hunt. The incident came one day after four sealers were killed on Saturday, when their ship rolled over while being towed by a coast guard icebreaker. Two sealers were above deck at the time and were rescued, but four were sleeping below decks. Three were found dead in the ship, while the fourth was never recovered. Transport Canada is investigating the incident.

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