Norway awaits the saboteurs

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The Independent Online
DEEP inside the Arctic Circle, in the far north of Norway, the whaling community is anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Edward Abbey, a fast ocean-going ship with a reinforced prow for ramming whalers.

The vessel, manned by eco- saboteurs from the organisation Sea Shepherd, is expected to attack Norwegian whaling vessels to stop 'environmental atrocities' against the minke whales.

The sabotage alert comes in the wake of Oslo's declaration on Friday that it is authorising a limited resumption of commercial whaling in defiance of the latest International Whaling Commission's decisions in Kyoto.

The anti-whaling campaign has already brought changes to the Lofoten Islands, where people used to leave their doors unlocked and car keys in the ignition overnight. After the attempted scuttling of a whaler in December, alarms were installed in all the islands' boats, at the insurance companies' insistence.

People known for their welcoming ways have become suspicious of strangers. Leif Arne, a pony-tailed crewman on the Jwol whaling ship, said residents now make mental notes of the number plates of cars they do not recognise. 'If I ever catch a saboteur, I'll belt him over the head and then hand him over to the police,' said the Jwol's skipper, Geir Andersen.

The saboteurs are a constant topic of conversation. A mere rumour that they had left their base in Marina Del Rey, California, was a lead item on the television news, and Norwegian newspapers have sent correspondents to track down and interview Paul Watson, the 42-year-old Canadian head of Sea Shepherd.

The first attacks on Norway's whaling community began in the dead of last winter when Watson, the world's most notorious animal liberationist, slipped across the Swedish border to northern Norway with two confederates. The three are believed to have taken the ferry to the Lofoten Islands, the centre of Norway's whaling industry, about 150 miles inside the Arctic Circle.

There, on Boxing Day, according to the Norwegian police, Watson and his companions boarded several whaling boats in the towns of Steine and Skrova, then opening the sea-cocks to scuttle a whaler named the Nybraena.

This attack had all the hallmarks of a Watson operation. The scourge of whalers the world over for the past 18 years, he has been cutting nets, ramming and sinking vessels from the South China Sea to the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

In his letter to Norwegians after the attack, Watson said he was speaking 'on behalf of the cetacean nation' and was 'representing whalekind in an effort to reach a state of coexistence with humankind'.

He takes credit for sinking or permanently disabling nine whalers since he was thrown out of Greenpeace in 1975 for advocating violence. He warned that 'we will continue to scuttle Norwegian ships . . . we will also confront Norwegian whalers with our ships in the Norwegian Sea in the spring of 1993'.

Mariette Korsrud, wife of a whaler/fisherman who spends up to six months a year between cod fishing and whaling, expresses the anger that the women of the region feel towards the Watsons of the world.

'I used to get hurt, when they called our husbands murderers and barbarians, but now I just get angry,' she said. 'Our men risk their lives going out in dark, rough weather to earn their livelihood, while we are being told what to do by people in polluted Los Angeles. And they are calling us barbarians?'

For five years, Norway has accepted the international moratorium on hunting minke whales, and has run small research whaling missions instead, which have taken about 100 whales a year. 'We've lost 40 per cent of our yearly income due to the ban,' Mrs Korsrud said. 'While we are not starving, things are tight.'

Now, however, the Norwegian government has decided to defy the ban. The country's small fleet of whaling vessels from northern coastal communities is awaiting the green light to hunt and kill 800 minke whales.

(Photograph and map omitted)

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