July 8, 2010 - 2:00PM
Pete Bethune ... returning home. Photo: Barbara Veiga/Sea Shepherd
New Zealand environmental activist Peter Bethune is relieved to be returning home to Auckland but is continuing his call for the Australian and New Zealand governments to seek justice from Japanese whalers.
Bethune, 45, was handed a suspended two-year jail sentence in Tokyo on Wednesday after he was convicted of assaulting a Japanese whaler and four other charges relating to clashes with whalers in Antarctic waters.
In a statement issued after his sentencing, Bethune said he still wanted justice.
"I strongly urge the Australian and New Zealand maritime authorities to continue putting pressure on the Japanese whalers to co-operate with their investigations into the collision," he said, referring to his boat's collision with a Japanese whaling vessel in January.
"I am very relieved and thankful at the decision from the Japanese court and immensely grateful to my legal team here in Japan.
"I am truly sorry for all the trouble and worry this has caused my family and am desperate to get back home to see them."
Bethune was arrested on February 15 when he boarded the Japanese whaling fleet's security ship, the Shonan Maru II, to make a citizen's arrest of its captain.
"All I did was to board the boat that I feel deliberately attacked and sunk my vessel," Bethune said in his statement.
"I wanted justice for the loss of my boat and the attempted murder of my crew."
Bethune was captain of the futuristic trimaran Ady Gil, which sank after its collided with the Shonan Maru II on January 6.
He was convicted on Wednesday of assaulting a Japanese whaler by hurling a rancid butter stink bomb, relating to a February 11 incident, and four other charges relating to his boarding of the ship.
He had denied the assault charge, but pleaded guilty to the other charges.
Japanese whaling ship the Shonan Maru 2 clashes with the Ady Gil. Photo: AP
Bethune's wife, Sharyn, said today she expected her husband to fly back to Auckland on Saturday morning, but he would remain in custody in Japan until then.
He has been banned from entering Japan for five years.
Meanwhile, the Sea Shepherd group said it had banned Bethune from its Antarctic anti-whaling missions as part of a "legal strategy" during his trial, and the New Zealand activist was welcome to join the group on future trips.
"I knew that the Japanese judges would be hesitant to release Pete back if they knew that he was going to be back in the Southern Ocean," Sea Shepherd captain Paul Watson told Radio New Zealand today.
"Pete said he would not return but they're not going to believe just one person, so I made it very clear that we would not allow Pete to return to the Southern Ocean."
The judge said the court had suspended the jail term because Bethune had no criminal record in Japan, had apologised and paid for damage he caused, and because he had said he would join no more Antarctic missions, the Agence France-Presse news agency reported.
Captain Watson slammed the Australian and New Zealand government for not doing enough to defend Bethune and said their lack of pressure on Japan would lead to more aggressive action.
"A New Zealand registered vessel was sunk and destroyed by a Japanese whaling vessel operating illegally in the Southern Ocean and they did nothing," Captain Watson said from California.
"We suspect [Japanese whalers will] be more aggressive - New Zealand and Australia have given Japan a green light to be more violent by not doing anything.
"We're going to go down stronger than ever."
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key called for "cool heads", saying Southern Ocean skirmishes could lead to a loss of life.