This November marks the 20th anniversary of the sinking of the whaleboats Hvalur 6 and Hvalur 7 in Reykjavík harbour and the sabotaging of the whale processing station in Hvalfjörður. Responsible for the action were two animal rights activists and members of the Sea Shepherd organisation, Dave Howitt and Rodney Coronado, who travelled to Iceland “to infiltrate Iceland for the sole purpose of causing maximum economic sabotage to their whaling industry.” The event caused outrage among Icelanders, possibly tarnishing the reputation of animal rights organisations with Icelanders for generations.
Media coverage of the event was, unsurprisingly perhaps, one-sided. The action was described as an act of vandalism, an act of terrorism or the act of madmen, depending on the media. Coronado, now serving time in an Arizona prison facility for an arson attempt at a Michigan animal research facility, recently gave his side of matters in an article written for issue 28, 2005 of No Compromise, a grassroots magazine for animal rights activists.
Describing the sabotaging of the whale processing station, Coronado says: “Our first task was the sabotage of the six huge diesel generators that provided power for the station. […] Next, we moved onto the centrifuges that processed whale blubber into a high-grade lubricating oil that was used in missiles. Smashing the delicate gear, we next located what we could not find at the meatpacking plant: the Whalemeat Mountain. We were forced to wedge open the refrigeration units and then sabotage the refrigeration units themselves so that hopefully the meat would thaw and spoil.
[…] We found the computer control room that kept the entire station’s machinery fully automated. We smashed the computer panels until sparks flew and LEDs flashed and the beautiful music of machines dying all around us could be heard. There was no time to waste, so we moved next to the ship’s store, where the spare parts for the four whaling ships were kept. Taking the most expensive pieces, we walked to the edge of the docks and tossed them into the waters.”
According to reports from the daily newspaper Morgunblaðið at the time, estimated damages exceeded 20 million ISK at least. Andrés Magnússon, foreman at the whale processing station at the time told Morgunblaðið that it appeared the whole plant had been the target of an air raid, adding: “It seems as if these men were controlled by their urge for vandalism rather than by an organised strategy.”
After the whaling station, Coronado and Howitt moved to Reykjavík harbour, where the whaling boats Hvalur 6, 7 and 8 were tied to dock. Entering the boats in the darkness proved easy. The night watchman was located in Hvalur 8, while the other two whalers were empty. After making sure they were alone aboard the boat, they went to work.
“We began to wrestle off the 16 or more nuts that held the valve cover in place. When the cover was fully removed, the ocean water would flood first the engine room and then the rest of the ship’s compartments, dragging it to a watery grave in Reykjavik’s deep harbour.”
After sinking the two whaleboats, Coronado and Howitt took off for Keflavík Airport to take the first plane out of the country. Some 20 minutes after a distress call was reported from Reykjavík harbour where two whaling boats were sinking, Coronado and Howitt, now on the run, were pulled over by police officers on their way to the airport.
“My first thought was, ‘No, they can’t be that good; they can’t have been watching us this whole time…’ Still, there we were two ships quickly sinking and minutes ticking away before our flight to freedom would lift off, possibly leaving us for the next 11 years to fine tune our masonry skills at the local prison. And a police officer was walking to my window while David and I sat soaked in water, with grease from engines all over our clothes.
“The officer asked me to get into his car. Looking at David as he sat with eyes forward, I got out of the car and into the back seat of the police cruiser. The officers ignored me and spoke to each other in Icelandic before finally turning around and asking me in plain English, ‘Have you drunken any alcohol tonight?’”
“Almost laughing, I said, ‘No, I do not even drink!’ which was a lie, and he then asked if he could smell my breath. It was tempting to utter a joke, but hot coffee on an Icelandair jet was calling. So I breathed on him, and he wished me a safe trip to the airport, knowing that was where we were probably headed because of the early morning departure.
That police officer is probably still cursing himself today after having the nation’s only saboteur since the Second World War into his police car and then letting him go.”
Howitt and Coronado both made it out of the country and neither of them has ever been charged with any wrongdoing in Iceland, although both have admitted responsibility. According to Icelandic police authorities, the statute of limitation for the act passed ten years ago.
Speaking with the Grapevine, Sea Shepherd’s founder, Paul Watson said: “I never could understand why they didn’t charge, other than that they didn’t want the publicity. We told Icelandic authorities that we would come to Iceland to stand trial if they wanted us to. They didn’t respond to that.”
Asked about the reasons for Sea Shepherd’s action against Icelandic whaling at the time, Watson responds that the organisation was responding to illegal whaling in Iceland, saying: “I consider it to be a policing act. Iceland’s activities were illegal after the (1986 International Whaling Commission’s) moratorium came into effect. We act in accordance with the United Nations World Charter for Nature. The U.N. Charter states under its chapter on implementation that any non-governmental organisation or individual is empowered to uphold international conservation law. I have used that effectively in my defence before.”
When asked if he believes the action was effective, Watson replies: “I believe it was. It brought a lot of international publicity to illegal whaling, it shut those vessels down for quite some time and it cost the Icelandic whaling industry a lot of money. But all our victories are temporary, we have always known that.”
With Iceland’s Minister for Fisheries announcing the decision to resume commercial whaling in Iceland last month, does Watson expect Sea Shepherd to take similar actions against the Icelandic whaling industry in the near future?
“Well, all of our energies are being directed against Japanese whaling but let’s say in principle that we are against whaling in Iceland, Norway, the Faroe Islands and Japan, and it is all illegal whaling as far as I am concerned. It is illegal to export whale meat. Nation-states have got to learn how to respect international laws, before they can expect individuals to respect the law. I think action will certainly be taken against shipments of whale meat to Japan. We would certainly view any attempts to trade in whale meat as a criminal activity.”
Rod Coronado’s article can be found at:
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