Paul Watson -- the animal rights activist who stars on "Whale Wars" -- tells TMZ he's been FALSELY accused of sinking the famous Ady Gil anti-whaling ship ... and is now pointing the finger at the ship's captain.
We broke the story ... Watson is being sued by the ship's namesake Ady Gil -- who claims he owned the vessel and leased it to Watson's Sea Shepherd organization. In his suit, Gil says the ship suffered minor damage in a fender bender with a Japanese whaling ship in 2010 and could have been repaired -- but Watson secretly had the ship destroyed so he could blame the whalers and gain publicity for his animal rights group.
But, in a statement to TMZ, Watson denies ANY wrongdoing and says ... "It seems like Ady Gil is simply frustrated that he could not get justice from the Japanese whalers who did sink his boat and has decided to lash out at us [Watson and the Sea Shepherd Org.] instead."
Watson claims the person who should REALLY get the blame for the crash is the ship's captain -- Peter Bethune -- who "negligently stopped his ship in the path of the whaling vessel and it was cut in half."
Watson says there is video of the crash that backs up his story.
Watson adds, "Peter Bethune was never under my command and I did not give him any order and I certainly did not order him to destroy his own ship." Watson says he was 250 miles away from the boat at the time of the crash.
Watson says Bethune eventually made the decision to abandon the vessel in the open water because the damage was so extreme, he couldn't tow it to port for repairs.
Bottom line -- Watson says he shouldn't be held responsible for the fate of the boat because "the Ady Gil was not a Sea Shepherd ship and was not under my command."
Check out Watson's entire statement after the jump.
Response from Captain Paul Watson to the Ady Gil Lawsuit
This lawsuit filed by Ady Gil is somewhat mystifying. It seems like Ady Gil is simply frustrated that he could not get justice from the Japanese whalers who did sink his boat and has decided to lash out at us instead.
His timing is also mystifying in that he waited three years and filed this suit just as we arrived in the Sanctuary this year to protect the whales. He also waited until we were battling an injunction by the U.S. Courts filed by Japan at the same time I have been made a fugitive based on accusations by his skipper Pete Bethune.
I really don’t have the time to deal with Mr. Gil’s strange lawsuit until after we have chased the whalers from the Southern Ocean this year, but when we do get around to answering him, I am sure our lawyers will have little trouble dismissing this suit as petty and frivolous.
The Ady Gil was owned by Ady Gil and skippered by Peter Bethune. Ady Gil bought the vessel from Bethune and hired him to be the skipper of the vessel. Pete Bethune selected his own crew. They were not Sea Shepherd crew except for one Sea Shepherd member on board as a liaison. Peter Bethune was never under my command and I did not give him any order and I certainly did not order him to destroy his own ship.
One only needs to watch the video to see that Bethune negligently stopped his ship in the path of the whaling vessel and it was cut in half. New Zealand Maritime Safety investigated the collision and their report clearly states that the loss of the Ady Gil was caused by 50% negligence by Pete Bethune and 50% negligence by the Japanese whalers.
That is the result of the official investigation which contradicts these allegations by Gil.
I was 250 miles away at the time of the incident.
The Ady Gil was cut in two and unsalvageable. Despite this the crew of the Bob Barker not only saved the lives of the Ady Gil crew they thought they might be able to tow it to the French Research base in Antarctica. Towing it back 2000 miles to New Zealand was impossible. The Bob Barker towed it for 35 hours and it was like towing an open bucket through the water. They could not make any progress and with a storm on the horizon the waterlogged halfsunk Ady Gil would soon become a hazard to the Bob Barker.
Finally the Captain of the Bob Barker called me as asked what to do. This conversation was recorded for the program Whale Wars. I said, “It is Pete’s boat and thus Pete’s decision.”
Pete Bethune made the decision to abandon the vessel and Australian Maritime Safety was informed of the fact because it would be a navigational hazard. The vessel was not sunk, it was abandoned and the decision to abandon it was made by Pete Bethune.
Proof of this is that the Japanese crew on the Shonan Maru No. 2 came across the floating half sunk hulk of the Ady Gil the next day.
Pete Bethune had a phone call with the designer of the boat who gave him the opinion that the vessel could not be salvaged. And he was right. The vessel was cut clean in half and her engines flooded. I did ask Bethune if he wanted the Bob Barker crew to salvage the engines for him and he told me that they could not be salvaged. The vessel was not repairable and considering the remote position of the vessel, it was unrealistic to expect it could be towed, especially since there was 200 miles of ice between the ships and the French Research Station.
We were never in a position to take care of the boat. That responsibility was in the hands of Pete Bethune who worked for Ady Gil, not Sea Shepherd.
Pete Bethune boarded the whaling vessel that destroyed his ship to confront the Japanese captain. He was arrested and brought back to Japan where he made a deal. By accusing me of ordering him to board the whaling ship he received a suspended sentence and the Japanese charged me instead. However as the video evidence shows clearly, I advised Bethune not to board the whaler. He answered that by saying he would take full responsibility for his actions. It appears he had a change of mind.
So to sum up, the Ady Gil was not a Sea Shepherd ship and not under my command. It was owned by Ady Gil and under the command of Pete Bethune. As her captain it was his responsibility to look to the safety and security of his ship. As I was not in command of the Ady Gil I had no part in any decision regarding navigation or operations of the vessel and I made no decision to abandon the vessel.
Ady Gil may have the money and the time to waste on this frivolous lawsuit but we really have much more important priorities, the first of which is to stop the Japanese whaling fleet from illegally killing whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
Ady Gil paid Pete Bethune a million dollars for the vessel and now he wants us to give him five million dollars. Unfortunately for him he does not have the evidence to back up these unsubstantiated allegations. We on the other hand videotaped everything.
But the question must be asked: Did Ady Gil send his boat down to the Southern Ocean to support Sea Shepherd’s campaign to save the lives of the whales or was it just to have his name on a boat that would be in a TV show? Personally I did not get the impression that Mr. Gil was that concerned about the whales. When his name was painted on the boat originally, he told Bethune’s crew to remove it and put it back on in larger letters.