Coast Guard Defends Collision
Apr. 21, 2000
NEAH BAY, Wash. (AP) _ Coast Guard officials today defended the crew of a 21-foot inflatable patrol boat that ran over a jet skier who was trying to disrupt a whale hunt by the Makah tribe.
Erin Abbott, 23, an anti-whaling protester from Seattle, was listed as stable at a Port Angeles hospital with a shoulder injury after the collision Thursday.
``They ran over me,'' she said from the hospital. ``I wasn't expecting to get run over by a boat. I expected to try and protect a whale that's trying to migrate to its summer resting spot.''
Coast Guard Adm. Paul Blayney said on ABC's ``Good Morning America'' today that the crew couldn't avoid hitting Abbott.
``We had a dynamic, dangerous situation,'' he said. ``Our people moved quickly, and unfortunately a boat can't stop on a dime. ... We regret that there were injuries, but it was moving fast. The protesters triggered that situation.''
The hunt was unsuccessful, but tribal members said they would not be deterred by protesters, who are required to stay 500 yards from the whalers and their carved wooden canoe.
``We hope she's OK, but it's unfortunate that she would violate the exclusionary zone'' around the canoe, said Makah Whaling Commission Chairman Keith Johnson. ``She'll have to accept the consequences of her actions.''
Television video showed Abbott swooping in on her watercraft Thursday as the canoe closed in on a gray whale. The Makah had just thrown a harpoon, which did not stick in the whale.
As the Makah attempted to maneuver for another shot, Abbott rushed by the canoe, spraying those aboard with her wake. As the watercraft turned, it was overtaken by the Coast Guard boat.
The two collided, and both the watercraft and Abbott appeared to go under the Coast Guard boat. Abbott surfaced a moment later about 20 feet from her watercraft.
``I can't believe she wasn't killed,'' said Julie Woodyer of World Whale Police. ``This aggressive behavior by the Coast Guard is unprecedented _ this is our worst nightmare come true.''
Coast Guard officials said a second protester, Erin O'Connell, was arrested Thursday morning and a second personal watercraft was confiscated. Protesters said they would resort to using larger boats to interfere with the hunt.
Tribal leaders say the seasonal hunt, a centuries-old tradition that resumed in the fall of 1998 after a 70-year hiatus, is vital to preserving the identity of the tribe at the tip of Washington's Olympic Peninsula. Anti-whaling activists fear it could open the door to a worldwide renewal of commercial whaling.