Bethune with the Earthrace, September 2008.
|Born||Peter James Bethune
4 April 1965
|Education||Bachelor of Engineering, M.B.A., Bachelor of Science|
|Alma mater||University of Auckland, Macquarie University, University of Waikato|
|Employer||Earthrace Charitable Trust|
|Spouse(s)||Sharyn Bethune (married in 1993)-Separated|
|Children||2 daughters (Danielle and Alycia Bethune)|
Peter James "Pete" Bethune (born 4 April 1965) is a New Zealand promoter of bio-fuels and conservationist. He is the holder of the world record for the fastest trip around the world in a powerboat and was involved with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. He was captain of the Ady Gil (previously the Earthrace) until it sank after a collision with a Japanese whaling vessel. He was convicted in Japan for assaulting a Japanese crew member with a butyric acid projectile and a direct action that involved boarding that whaling vessel to arrest the captain and received a suspended sentence.
Personal life and early career
Bethune grew up in Hamilton East, New Zealand as one of five children. He studied science at the University of Waikato and engineering at the University of Auckland. He has two daughters with his wife, Sharyn, his high school sweetheart, from whom he is separated.
He began his career as an oil exploration engineer and worked in the North Sea and Libya. In 1997, he co-founded CamSensor Technologies. The company manufactured automated camera systems for controlling robots used in complex tasks such as cutting up and grading meat carcasses. He later moved to Sydney to establish the business there.
He is motivated by the potential for alternative fuels. In 2003, Bethune wrote a 20,000-word paper while pursuing his Master of Business Administration degree from Macquarie University about the use of renewable energy for road transport. In regard to his enjoyment of fishing and hunting, along with his previous occupations, Bethune told a reporter for The New Zealand Herald: "I've come from a very unusual background to be a conservationist."
Captain of Earthrace
Based on his research at Macquarie, Bethune set out to prove that hydrocarbon fuels could be replaced by sustainable bio-fuels. He had Earthrace designed by LOMOcean Design and built in order to break the world record for a circumnavigation by a powerboat in hopes that it would call attention to the viability of bio-diesel as an alternative fuel. He mortgaged his New Zealand home and financed the building in the hopes of recouping the expenses from sponsorships. He declined a $4 million sponsorship from a company that would have required them to use regular diesel.
His first attempt began in Barbados on 10 March 2007. He encountered significant delays due to issues with the propellers and other mechanical problems. On the night of 19 March, while around 22 kilometres (14 mi) offshore from Guatemala, Earthrace collided with a local fishing boat. No Earthrace crew were hurt, but one of the three crew members from the fishing boat was killed. The crew was absolved of any responsibility after a 10-day investigation during which they were held in custody. The delays prevented them from completing the circumnavigation in record time, but because Earthrace took an official start time when leaving San Diego, the team decided to "restart" with this new start/finish line. They departed San Diego on 7 April 2007 and needed to return by 21 June to break the record. The attempt was abandoned on 31 May after a crack was discovered in the hull shortly after leaving Málaga, Spain.
He departed from Sagunto, Spain, in another attempt on 1 March 2008. As a publicity stunt, Bethune and two others had undergone liposuction in order to convert a small amount of their own body fat into fuel. The idea arose from a previous plan to tour New Zealand in a car with an attached mobile bio-diesel plant. He finished at the Spanish port of Sagunto on 27 June. The journey was completed in 60 days, 23 hours and 49 minutes, beating the former record by over two weeks. Bethune then embarked on a world tour with the vessel to promote awareness of alternative fuels.
Captain of Ady Gil
After touring ports around the globe, the Earthrace was put on sale for $2.6 million and Bethune considered using it to interfere with Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean if a buyer could not be found. Hollywood production-house owner Ady Gil purchased the boat and Earthrace was renamed after him on 17 October 2009. Gil left the ship to Bethune and a crew of five who refitted for Antarctic waters to participate in anti-whaling activities as part of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Bethune said before the operation: "I'm a conservationist. One of the things I've learned on Earthrace is stand up for stuff you believe in. Year after year the Japanese go down there and nothing seems to change... If they want to go amping things up a bit, then bring it on." His wife later told the press that he first became alarmed by the state of the oceans when skippering the vessel during the record attempts.
On 6 January 2010 the Ady Gil was involved in a collision with the Japanese whaling vessel MV Shōnan Maru 2 in the Southern Ocean when the Shonan Maru 2 hit it, and the Ady Gil subsequently sank. An investigation into the collision by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) was inconclusive and unable to assign blame for the collision. AMSA was unable to verify claims made by Sea Shepherd, while the Japanese government declined to participate with the investigation saying any information it had might be needed for an inquiry by its own authorities. However Maritime New Zealand investigators released a report that the captains of both vessels were to blame. The captains of both the Ady Gil and the whaler, the Shonan Maru No 2, "were responsible for either contributing to, or failing to respond to the 'close quarters' situation that led to the collision".
Arrest, trial, and conviction
On 15 February 2010, Bethune boarded the Shōnan Maru 2 with the expressed purpose of conducting a citizen's arrest on her captain, Hiroyuki Komiya, alleging attempted murder and to present a claim for $3 million for the loss of his vessel. Bethune was not successful in arresting Komiya, nor did he receive any compensation. Bethune hoped to be taken to Japan to face charges in an effort to increase public awareness of Sea Shepherd's cause. Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research issued a statement calling it a publicity stunt. He used a jet ski to approach the ship then climbed onto its deck after cutting through an anti-boarding net that was draped around the hull. He was detained by the ship's crew and taken to Tokyo, where he was arrested by the Japanese Coast Guard on 12 March on charges of trespassing.
On 2 April 2010, Bethune was indicted in Japan on five charges: trespassing, assault, illegal possession of a knife, destruction of property and obstruction of business. The assault charge was based on the allegation that he threw a bottle of butyric acid onto the Shōnan Maru 2 days before the boarding, causing chemical burns to a whaler's face. The Sea Shepherd group claimed the burns were self-inflicted when the crewman was shooting pepper spray at the protesters. Bethune could have faced up to 15 years in prison if found guilty of injury, or up to three years if found guilty of trespass. Bethune's lawyer claimed the charges were unfounded and stated that his client would strongly deny them. He was held without bond in the maximum security Tokyo Detention Centre while he stood trial.
Several major newsmedia reported that Bethune pleaded guilty to four charges while others reported that he admitted four charges or that he conceded four of the charges but has contested an assault charge. Newsreview.com claims that Bethune did not "plead" guilty as there is no such thing as a plea in Japanese criminal proceedings and he and his Japanese lawyers claim that Sea Shepherd's actions are protected by the United Nations World Charter for Nature, which allows private organisations to interfere in government-like ways in the interest of the environment. Though he admitted to launching a projectile of butyric acid, he contested the assault charge against him on the grounds that he lacked intent to injure the ship's crew. In his tearful final statement delivered on 10 June, Bethune said: "I did not have the intention of hurting crew members. I took action because I wanted to stop Japan's illegal whaling." Prosecutors demanded a sentence of two years in prison.
The Labour Party's Chris Carter accused the New Zealand Government of "washing their hands of the fate" of Bethune. Bethune received visitations from consular staff. Prime Minister John Key said "...it's worth noting that I can't get involved in a prosecution in another country any more than I can get involved in a prosecution in New Zealand. What I can do is make sure the person is being treated fairly."
On 4 June, in what was later claimed by Paul Watson to be a legal strategy on the part of Sea Shepherd, Sea Shepherd announced that it was no longer going to be formally associated with Bethune since a set of bow and arrows was on the Ady Gil during the anti-whaling operation. The group stressed that the weapon was not intended to be used against any person, and Bethune previously had stated to Animal Planet cameras during Whale Wars filming that he intended to use the bow and arrows to spoil whale meat for commercial use. Sea Shepherd said it would continue to support Bethune during the trial in Japan.
Bethune held a press conference upon returning to New Zealand. He told reporters: "My trial in Japan represents a miscarriage in justice. Not because I stood before that court, but because the captain of the Shōnan Maru 2 did not." He also called the New Zealand Government a "lap dog" for what he considered a lack of support.
Disassociation from Sea Shepherd
Bethune disassociated himself from Sea Shepherd by posting an open letter on his Facebook page on 4 October 2010, condemning the organization and its leader Paul Watson as "dishonest" and "morally bankrupt". According to his letter, he was directed by Paul Watson to sink the Ady Gil deliberately for PR purposes after the collision with the Japanese whaling ship. He insists that the senior members of Sea Shepherd regularly lie and conspire over the serious matters, detailing many cases in his letter. Pete Bethune has since founded his own conservation organization, Earthrace Conservation.
In 2015 former Sea Shepherd Bob Barker Captain Chuck Swift stated neither Sea Shepherd nor Peter Bethune were being completely honest about what happened when the Ady Gil sank.
After Bethune's prison sentence, he decided to form a paramilitary unit that hunts environmental criminals, and that his unit will be featured in a TV documentary named after the group, The Operatives.
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