Sea Shepherd 'sank its own anti-whaling boat'
An estranged former member of direct action anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd alleges it ordered its own boat to be scuttled to win public sympathy.
Peter Bethune was captain of the hi-tech Ady Gil when its bow was shorn off in a collision with a Japanese whaler it was shadowing in January.
It sank two days later, but Mr Bethune now alleges he was ordered to scuttle it by Sea Shepherd head Paul Watson.
Mr Watson denies the claim - the latest twist in a bitter row between the two.
Commentators say the feud threatens to undermine the standing of the anti-whaling lobby in the publicity battle over Japan's whaling programme.
Mr Bethune told New Zealand's National Radio he believed Mr Watson wanted the sinking to "garner sympathy with the public and to create better TV".
"Paul Watson was my admiral. He gave me an order and I carried it out," Mr Bethune said, according to Associated Press.
"I was ashamed of it at the time and I'm ashamed of it now."
But Mr Watson denied the allegations, saying Mr Bethune was bitter because he had fallen out with Sea Shepherd.
"No-one ordered him to scuttle it. Pete Bethune was captain of the Ady Gil, all decisions on the Ady Gil were his," he said, according to AFP news agency.
Sea Shepherd shot to prominence as the futuristic trimaran Ady Gil pursued the Japanese whaler Shonan Maru 2 through Antarctic waters in January - spawning coverage such as the TV show Whale Wars.
But it soon courted controversy as Mr Bethune boarded the Shonan Maru 2 to confront the captain over the collision which ended in the sinking of the Ady Gil.
He ended up spending five months in a Japanese jail awaiting trial and was finally given a suspended sentence after admitting obstructing commercial activities, trespass, vandalism and carrying a knife.
Sea Shepherd distanced itself from Mr Bethune during his detention - though it later claimed this was a ploy to gain a lenient sentence.
Mr Watson now reportedly says Mr Bethune was expelled from Sea Shepherd in October after it discovered the New Zealander had given false information to Japanese authorities about Mr Watson in exchange for leniency.