When is a yacht not a yacht? The answer is: when it comes to Canada to protest the massive annual slaughter of baby harp seals.
Our ship the Farley Mowat has been a Canadian registered yacht since April of 2002. During this three-year period we have crossed the North and South Pacific, gone to Antarctica, transited the Panama Canal, and voyaged in the North and South Atlantic.
During this time we docked in Victoria, British Columbia, twice (in 2003 and in 2004) where we were boarded and inspected by the Canadian Coast Guard.
During this time we never had a safety problem or any problems at all with vessel documentation. We had the documents that Transport Canada told us were required. Occasionally another nation would request documents like a tonnage certificate or an International Oil Pollution Prevention Certificate (IOPP) and we would inquire with Transport Canada about securing these documents. Each time we were told they were not required for a yacht.
On February 25th, 2005, we were inspected by the United States Coast Guard in Portland, Maine, and told that we had no violations.
And then two days later we arrived in Canada to find the rules had been changed just prior to our arrival.
Just prior to departing from Portland, Canadian authorities informed us that if we arrived in Canadian waters without two Canadian commercial-licensed deck officers onboard, the ship would be charged with violations for not having said officers on board. This, despite the fact that the ship does not have requirements for certificated Canadian crew.
To avoid this, Sea Shepherd was forced to hire two Canadian deck officers from an agency at a cost of $700 U.S. a day. This will cost us $21,000 to allow us to take the ship to the seal hunt and back.
One of these hired officers is excellent although we do not need his help. The other was a pro-seal hunting Newfoundlander who did nothing but complain and demonstrate his incompetence. He left the ship in Halifax.
I have been the captain of Sea Shepherd ships for 25 years with over 200 voyages in excess of 1,000 miles each and Canada now decides that I am unqualified to command a yacht because I do not have a commercial ticket. Of course, a commercial ticket has never been needed to command a yacht, but for us the rules have been changed. This will force me to take the time to take the exam for a Canadian commercial ticket.
Upon arrival in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on February 28th, we were greeted by police cars and Canada Custom vehicles on the dock. Standing there were more than a dozen uniformed Custom officers waiting to storm on board looking for contraband, weapons, or drugs. This, despite having had a complete inspection of the ship only days earlier by U.S. Homeland Security and the United States Coast Guard.
For three hours they searched cabins and tossed personal belongings on the floor and looked into every nook and cranny for whatever they were looking for.
Finally we were given permission to enter Canada. They would not give us clearance, however, until they established what type of vessel we were. When it was pointed out that our Canadian registry states clearly that we are a yacht, the Customs officers said they would have to verify this.
On the morning of March 1st, Transport Canada Marine Safety boarded and said we would have to be inspected and surveyed for application for the IOPP and the tonnage certificates. They said that this requirement has been in effect since 1997 and we should have had the certificates issued. However, the certificates were not issued at the time of registry in April 2002 and we were denied them each time they were requested.
We were told that our oil spill response plan prepared by and approved by the United States Coast Guard was unacceptable. We were told to hire a consultant to prepare a Canadian plan and to purchase Canadian insurance for oil spills despite the fact that we already have international insurance for oil spills.
We were then told to construct a steel containment barrier around our waste oil tank and to install an electric pump with an automatic shut-off despite the fact that the tank is emptied by gravity flow and vacuum pump. The total cost being $1,200 in parts plus three days of labor by our crew.
And we had to hire a consultant to prepare the application of an international tonnage certificate.
The Canadian government was intent upon increasing our costs and delaying our departure.
On March 3rd, we were still under restriction from departing from Halifax. Canada Customs finally granted our clearance as a yacht. We continue to await approval for the IOPP and Tonnage certificates.
Out there in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the seal pups are being born. In three weeks the vicious clubs of the sealers will begin their gruesome work.
We will be there. We will endure this bureaucratic hell by jumping through the required hoops and paying the costs to satisfy their demands.
On the positive side, the harassment has resulted in a great deal of media coverage in Nova Scotia and Canada. That is after all why we are here, to rock the boat and bring this bloody obscenity of sealing to the attention of the public.
The bureaucrats have hurt us financially and we must appeal for help from all our supporters. The demands of the Canadian government has cost us an extra USD$35,000.
I urge all of you who care about shutting this despicable seal hunt down to send a donation to help us cover the costs imposed on us by the Canadian bureaucrats. We are as strong as your support.
Captain Paul Watson