Activists held after trying to halt Faroe Island dolphin hunt

Peter Harmsen

Stockholm (AFP) - Fourteen activists from the radical animal rights group Sea Shepherd have been arrested in Denmark's Faroe Islands while trying to halt a traditional dolphin hunt, their organisation said Sunday.

The activists were detained Saturday on the island of Sandoy while attempting to save a pod of 33 pilot whales -- members of the dolphin family -- which were being driven toward shore to be slaughtered, Lamya Essemlali, president of Sea Shepherd France, said.

"The 14 have been under arrest since Saturday, and three of our boats have also been seized," Essemlali told AFP.

"Their lawyer has seen them, and they are doing fine. They are waiting for a decision about what will happen to them."

Large numbers of pilot whales are slaughtered each year on the Faroe Islands, an autonomous territory within the kingdom of Denmark.

The method involves the mammals being forced into a bay by flotillas of small boats before being hacked to death with hooks and knives.

Sea Shepherd, which has waged a sometimes violent campaign against whalers and in defence of ocean wildlife, has denounced the hunt as brutal and archaic, and this year brought celebrities to the North Atlantic islands to cast a spotlight on the practice.

The group said six of its members were detained on shore, the eight others in three small boats that were later seized by the Danish Navy.

The arrested were eight French citizens, two South Africans, two Spaniards, one Italian and one Australian, according to Essemlali.

After their arrest, the hunt went ahead and all 33 pilot whales were killed, according to Sea Shepherd.

A spokesman for the Danish Armed Forces' Arctic Command, which is responsible for the Faroe Islands, said it was standard procedure for the Danish Navy to assist the Faroese police in its work. Faroese police could not immediately be reached for comment.

- 'Atrocity' -

Charlie Sheen was one of the celebrities backing Sea Shepherd's action, and a boat the American actor sponsored, B.S. Sheen, was seized on Saturday.

Sheen said in a statement he was proud his vessel had tried to stop the "atrocity".

"The Faroese whalers brutally slaughtered an entire pod of 33 pilot whales today -- several generations taken from the sea -- and Denmark is complicit in the killing," Sheen said in a statement.

Hundreds of activists have pledged to patrol the waters around the Faroe Islands in an ongoing campaign to block the pilot whale slaughter.

Other well-known supporters of the campaign include renowned ballet dancer Sylvie Guillem and former "Baywatch" star Pamela Anderson.

But the presence of activists in the archipelago between Iceland and Scotland -- a combined area of 1,400 square kilometres (540 square miles) for some 50,000 inhabitants -- has drummed up tensions, Danish broadcaster TV2 reported.

Last weekend, a Spanish member of Sea Shepherd was assaulted and punched in the face, apparently by a local supporter of the traditional hunt, TV2 and Sea Shepherd said.

Since records began, more than 265,000 small cetaceans have been killed in the Faroe Islands, mainly between the months of June and October, according to Sea Shepherd.

In just one hunt last year, 267 pilot whales were killed near the Faroese town of Fuglafjorour, it said.

Whaling in the Faroes stretches back to the earliest Norse settlements more than 1,000 years ago, and community-organised hunts date to at least the 16th century.

TV2 cited a recent survey on its website suggesting thast 77 percent of the Faroese population support the killings, while 12 percent are opposed.