REYKJAVIK, Iceland — Saboteurs opened the bottom valves on two of Iceland's four whaling boats Sunday, sinking the vessels in Reykjavik harbor, police reported, and the U.S.-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson, in an interview broadcast on Icelandic state radio and television, said a team from his organization, based in Los Angeles, sank the boats because "the Icelanders were hunting whales illegally."
No injuries were reported in the attacks, which were believed to have occurred about 2 a.m. when no crew members were aboard. A guard on a nearby boat told police that at about 5 a.m., he noticed the two vessels taking on water but was unable to save them.
Whaling Halt Called
Iceland has agreed to abide by an International Whaling Commission decision to cease whaling from 1986 until 1990. Although its commercial whaling stopped, the government permits the Hvalur Whaling Co. to carry out what is called scientific whaling for research purposes in cooperation with the National Oceanic Research Institute.
Under a plan to gain information on the diminishing numbers of the great sea mammals, the company is permitted to catch 200 whales a year.
Environmentalists, however, accuse the government of using science as a shield behind which they say commercial whaling continues.
The Sea Shepherd group was founded by Watson in 1977, when he was expelled from a Greenpeace conservation group based in Vancouver, Canada. No reason was given for his expulsion. Watson's group also has offices in Vancouver.
Watson, 36, said a Sea Shepherd team went to Iceland several days ago, "and they had patrolled the harbor and watched for an opportunity" to sink the boats. "As we don't want to cause bodily harm, we therefore prepared the act very carefully."
Explosives Ruled Out
He said the team "was given instructions not to cause injuries and therefore explosives were out of the question. Instead a bottom valve was opened on one of the boats, and, as they were chained together, the sinking boat pulled the other one down with it."
But police said bottom valves on both vessels were opened.
Police diver Einar Kristbjornsson, who checked the sunken vessels, said the 10-inch bottom valves of both boats were open and some doors were broken.
Watson told the radio network that "his team" has now left Iceland, but he did not elaborate.
Last July, Danish police fired machine guns and tear gas to drive off a 200-foot Sea Shepherd boat, which was cruising near the Faeroe Islands in the North Atlantic and harassing vessels killing pilot whales.
While pilot whales are not threatened with extinction and are not included in the international ban, the environmentalist group considers the yearly hunt inhumane and unnecessary.
A month earlier, Danish police in the Faeroes detained Watson and five anti-whaling activists for five days, then expelled them for interfering with the hunt.
The whaling issue has strained Iceland's relations with the United States, which opposes whaling, but the two nations reached a compromise under which half the meat from the whaling is to be consumed by Icelanders. In the past, 90% of the meat was sold abroad, nearly all of it to Japan.