The skipper of a Sea Shepherd protest boat damaged in a collision with a Japanese whaling ship has said that the head of the conservation group ordered him to let the vessel sink because it would help win public support.
Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson denied the claim, saying the decision to scuttle the futuristic, high-tech protest boat Ady Gil early this year was made by the skipper, New Zealander Peter Bethune.
The exchange exposed a bitter falling out between Mr Bethune, who shot to international prominence because of the high-seas drama, and Mr Watson, the figurehead of Sea Shepherd's campaign against Japan's Antarctic whaling programme.
The campaign drew high-profile donor support in the United States and elsewhere and spawned the popular Animal Planet series Whale Wars.
Mr Bethune was at the helm of the Sea Shepherd boat Ady Gil when its bow was shorn off by Japanese whaling ship Shonan Maru 2 in waters off the frozen continent in January. He later boarded the whaler to confront the ship's captain over the collision, and was detained by the crew.
He was arrested and spent five months in a Japanese jail while being tried on trespassing, assault and other charges. He was convicted and received a suspended prison sentence in July, then deported.
He said the Ady Gil was salvageable after the collision but that Mr Watson ordered it to be sunk and said he believed Mr Watson wanted the boat to sink to "garner sympathy with the public and to create better TV".
"Paul Watson was my admiral. He gave me an order and I carried it out," Mr Bethune told New Zealand's National Radio. "I was ashamed of it at the time and I'm ashamed of it now. It was all done in secret. I was ordered not to tell any of the crew, not my family and especially not Ady Gil, the owner of the boat."
Mr Watson, a Canadian, said the scuttling of the Ady Gil was Mr Bethune's decision.
"Pete is on camera saying 'yes, I guess we're going to have to let it go', so it was his decision and actually wasn't mine," Mr Watson told National Radio.