Criticism after boat thought to be in trouble

MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD
Last updated 05:00 08/01/2013
sea shepherd
Fairfax NZ

STRANGE SIGHT: Anti-whaling activist Sea Shepherd group's boat the Brigitte Bardot leaving the Viaduct Harbour, Auckland, last month. A person mistook the unusual shape of the 35-metre monohull boat for an upturned ship, when it was spotted off the mouth of the Rangitata River.

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The anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd has been criticised following a false rescue alarm off Timaru on Saturday.

The incident happened after a person sighted one of the anti-whaling activist group's ships, the Brigitte Bardot, not far off the mouth of the Rangitata river.

The Brigitte Bardot, a 35-metre monohull trimaran, was waiting for its sister ship the Steve Irwin, which was refuelling in Timaru.

The Timaru Herald understands the person described it as looking like "an upside down yacht", and was concerned something had happened to it.

The person contacted the South Canterbury Coastguard branch which sent a rescue craft, and the Westpac rescue helicopter also became involved.

"The whole thing took up about two to three hours of authorities' time," South Canterbury Coastguard skipper Tony Lister said yesterday.

"A distress call was put out to all vessels in the vicinity.

"The Brigitte Bardot did not respond to the call. It's very disappointing. The person who notified authorities about his concern about the ship was absolutely sincere, and [the Brigitte Bardot] wasted a lot of people's time in not responding."

Mr Lister said rather than respond to the arrival of the Westpac Rescue helicopter, the Brigitte Bardot instead turned away at "high speed".

"All authorities responded very quickly and professionally. There was no need for Sea Shepherd to behave like this," he said.

Maritime New Zealand spokesman Michael Flyger confirmed a distress call was put out to neighbouring boats.

"A couple of nearby ships responded that they could assist if required, although one of them was a dredging ship 17 nautical miles away," he said.

"It's an unusual situation, it's normally the ship in question which puts out the call. The helicopter saw there was nothing untoward with the vessel. We suspect [the Brigitte Bardot] would have heard the original distress call."

Sea Shepherd's three anti-whaling ships - the Steve Irwin, the Brigitte Bardot and the Bob Barker - were heading to the Southern Ocean for their protest campaign against Japan's whaling activities.

Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson, contacted last night aboard the Steve Irwin, said the first the organisation knew about the distress call was when the helicopter arrived.

"We can't help it if someone else makes the call. There was nothing wrong with the ship," he said.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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