How to Sink a Whaling Ship



By Gray Wolf & Hummingbird

Over 70 percent of the surface of this planet is covered by oceans. Some biologists estimate that 90 percent of Earth’s living biomass is in the oceans, and that 90 percent of photosynthesis occurs in the oceans. The tropical forests may be the reservoirs of land-based biodiversity, but the oceans are the lungs, or air filters, of this planet.

The assault on the biological integrity of the seas is being waged on many fronts, by many financial buccaneers. Prominent among these ecological corsairs of the high seas are whalers, drift-netters, and toxic-dumping ships. This final section of Ecodefense offers clear directions for sending these outlaw ships to Davy Jones’ locker.

The oceans of the world are a frontier beyond the reach of the laws of most nation states. Within the realm of this non-territorial zone there is no legal juris­diction other than a confusing and conflicting quagmire of international treaties and regulations. Into this lawless territory it is possible for the intrepid defender of marine ecosystems to move and operate in a guarded but overt manner. How­ever, it must be remembered that although the laws over this Neptunian realm are vague, one law still reigns supreme, it is the law of force, where might makes right.

The first group to grasp the full import of this situation was a unique organiza­tion called the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has been involved in numerous confrontations on the high seas since the 1970s. Sea Shepherd has gone up against pirate whalers, outlaw fishing operations, polluters, and the armed might of navies. These battles have from time to time found their way into the courts of some nations but, in every case, the Shepherds have managed to utilize strategies that have prevailed both on the high seas and in the courts. Most of the following advice and instruction is derived from their expertise in the field.

Sea Shepherd’s rationale for its actions has been that, as individuals, its members are legally empowered to intervene in protecting marine environments. This empowerment is codified in Appendix E of The World Charter for Nature, Section III, Implementation Clause 21 #C & E.

States and, to the extent they are able, other public authorities,
international organizations, individuals, groups and corporations shall:
(c) Implement the applicable legal provisions for the
conservation of nature and the protection of the environment;
(e) Safeguard and conserve nature In areas beyond
national jurisdiction.

In September 1993, Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson used the World Charter as a legal justification in the Newfoundland Provincial Court to defend himself against felony charges of ordering and forcing Cuban trawlers off the Tail of the Grand Banks in international waters. He admitted that he had indeed done so but that he was legally justified according to the Charter. The jury agreed and Watson was acquitted.

Sea Shepherd operates not as a protest group but as a self-appointed law enforcement organization operating in accordance with the Charter. They enforce laws in situations where traditional law enforcement refuses to operate or chooses to discriminate in the application of regulations, laws, and treaties protecting marine wildlife. Sea Shepherd has also directly attacked operations within the bound­aries of nation states when the activities were in violation of international treaties. The global moratorium on commercial whaling that was passed in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission led to Sea Shepherd sinking two illegal whaling ships in Iceland in 1986 and two again, in Norway between 1992 and 1994.


Sea Shepherd takes the position that sinking a whaler is a surefire way of stopping whaling. Even if the ship is refloated, the immersion in salt water will have destroyed most electrical and mechanical systems. Of the seven ships Sea Shepherd has sunk worldwide, only two have been refloated and returned to sea at great expense. In some cases, insurance may cover the whaler’s cost, but only if they have paid war insurance premiums. Since the scuttling at dock of the two Norwegian whalers in 1992 and 1994, the entire Norwegian fleet of 48 whaling vessels must now pay exorbitant premiums and some even post twenty-four hour security guards. Whaling has become a very expensive enterprise. Scuttling ships is not a college prank. It can be deadly serious.


If you take a page from Sea Shepherd’s logbook, you will note there are some basics in common to both land and sea ecodefense maneuvers. You must not look conspicuous. Dress in a style that does not attract attention. Pretend to be a tourist if you do not speak the language. A good way to make subtle inquiries is to pose as a tourist returning to the town of his/her ancestors and looking for family roots. Another approach is to work with someone you trust who is from the region. This allows you to remain quiet and not arouse suspicion. When staying at hotels, eating at restaurants, or purchasing tools, do not ask questions about the menu, about room conditions, or do anything other than be a non-memorable faceless person. Always pay with the local currency, don’t use credit cards.

A good marine eco-mechanic should know the way around a ship’s engine room and be able to locate the Achilles’ heel of any ship, the saltwater intake valves. To find them it is most important to have a knowledge of engine room color codes.


Green – Saltwater pipes and pumps

Blue – Fresh water pipes and pumps

Brown – Fuel oil pipes and tanks

Yellow – Fuel

Red – Fire fighting system (salt water)

The system you will be looking for is the salt water intake system, which supplies salt water for cooling and to the fire systems. The valve you are looking for is the salt water intake valve. The valve is painted green and usually located beneath the deck plates. It can be found by following the green pipes back and down to a large valve that connects the intake pipe to the pipe which supplies the system. It should be easy to find a pipe (or three) going straight into and through the hull, below the water level. There will also be a valve somewhere close to where this pipe meets the hull.


No guns, limpet mines, or explosives. Using explosives could only risk life and would definitely be very counterproductive with the media. If you get caught with explosives you can expect to do long time. Any eco-warrior of passion and cour­age can kill whaling ships, driftnetters, and toxic dumping ships with a few easily acquired tools. Before undertaking monkeywrenching of this magnitude, study all of the techniques in Ecodefense.

Buy or secure your tools in the country where your target is moored. Use cash and buy one tool at one store in one town, the next at another store in another town. If you have the time to look, some of the tools will be found on the target vessel itself. A fire ax will always be found on board any ship.


Spare clothes, money, ID, shoes, in waterproof bag

Large pipe wrench (place a rag between the jaws and close, to silence!)

Large crescent wrench (2 of these! Silenced, as above)

Large pry bar or folding ax or shovel

Flashlight (Headset Lamp is best; with blue – not red light filter, and small backup light that you can hold in your mouth if necessary)

Leather Gloves – not rubber, or thin diving, batting, or golf gloves

Duct Tape

Ax – use onboard ship’s ax

Wire cutters – insulated

10-20 ft. light, strong rope

Compass – and knowledge of using one

Extra Batteries for Everything – do it, or Mr. Murphy will fall upon you.

* It is always a good idea to wrap your tools with electrical tape prior to board­ing. This way they won’t reflect light, and if dropped, they are a lot more quiet. In a pinch you can always just spray paint them black or dark gray.

* Keep additional/extra rags in tool bag to silence any clanking along the way.


Wet Suit, flippers, mask, and snorkel

Rebreather or scuba tanks

Rope with small grapple – silence with electrical tape

Small Float Bag – waterproof

Two-way radios – preferably with headset, ear piece, signal/transmission light

Small basic First-Aid kit

Small set of bolt cutters

Step One: Recon. You must know your target. Where does it moor? Who owns the ship? How far is the nearest occupied structure? Is there a premise alarm? Many questions can be answered by referring to international shipping registers. A recon team of local or native speaking individuals is best, however. This team should make subtle inquiries and observations from a week to a month before the ship is boarded. The recon team should not include the eco-mechanic unless the operation involves a solitary operator. Observation should determine if the ship is manned or unmanned, is being watched by security, or has a surveillance or alarm system installed.

Step Two: The approach. It is best to approach from the water as a diver or swimmer or by a small boat. Carry your tools suspended from a float bag. Board at the stern end between the ship and the berth. Use a small grapple to attach a rope on which you can climb up onto the deck. A water retreat is also the most secure way of leaving the boat and offers the most options. If an approach must be taken from land, make it fast and try not to leave footprints in the snow or mud.

It is best to have a member of the team on shore in a position to observe the ship. Equipped with a radio, this person would be able to notify the eco-mechanic of any approach by unwelcome people.

Step Three: If there is time, open any air vents on deck. (And once inside the engine room, be careful of shining unfiltered light up or near vent openings.) Opening these vents will facilitate the exit of air from the engine room in the same way that venting a water jug (or a beer!) at one end will allow free outflow of the liquid contents.

Step Four: Locate and gain access to the engine room. If the door is locked, use your prybar to break in. Access can be made through a bridge window by duct-taping the window and then smashing it with your pry bar or wrench. The duct tape should diminish the sound of breaking glass. Use the blue filter on the flashlight to avoid lights flickering through the port holes. Check the ship to ensure that there is no one sleeping on board. You do not want to scuttle a ship with people on board. Once inside the engine room, descend to the bottom of the engine space, remove the filter from your flashlight, and trace the green salt water cooling pipes.

Step Five: Locate the intake valve. You should be able to trace the green pipes to the salt water intake valve. A few ships, especially in very cold northern waters, will have keel cooling systems. They still must have access to salt water for the fire system. In this case, trace the red pipes to the intake valve.


Step Six: Close the sea water intake valve. If the intake valve is open and you are in a real hurry, strike the green cooling pipes with an ax to flood the engine room. This creates a lot of noise and is less efficient but, in a pinch, will get the job done. Saltwater pipes tend to be more brittle than fresh water pipes. If you can breach the pipe and the sea valve is open, you will bring in the briny sea.

A more efficient way is to take the time to close the valve to remove the pres­sure to the pipes. Turn the wheel clockwise to close the valve. Give it a little extra pull shut with your wrench or a valve wrench if one is available.


Step Seven: Remove the retaining nut on the valve wheel. You still need to reopen the valve but you need to remove the valve wheel quickly once you do so. You can remove it completely using your wrench, but the wheel is more efficient so leave it on for now. Check and make sure that it can be easily removed.

To further damage engine room and other wiring, cut the wiring to the engine, bridge, and generators (in ceiling and behind panels)discretely, in case scuttling is discovered. Small bolt cutters will cut larger wires very efficiently. Open oil filler

caps & radiators for salt water access to the engine’s “guts”.



Step Eight: Disconnect the piping from the valve. Remove nuts and bolts connecting the pipe from the intake valve. You may need to use both wrenches, one to hold the nut and the other to turn the bolt. It is best to remove a section of pipe if you can, which means removing nuts and bolts where the pipe connects to the next section. If the pipe section is heavy, you may not be able to support the loose end while you disconnect the other end. Rope can be used to hold it in place while you are working on it, so it won’t fall crashing to the floor. You don’t want a loud noise attracting uninvited attention to your little party.


Step Nine: If there is time, look in the bilge for the bilge pump. It will probably have a float of some kind, not unlike the float in your toilet. However, this float will activate the ship’s bilge pump when it reaches a certain level and not shut off until it is much lower. It has been verified firsthand that some Norwegian whale-­killers have these automatic pumps on board. If you are in a time-sensitive situation, at least disconnect the engine room batteries and cut off leads.

Step Ten: Open the valve. Stand behind the intake opening and open the valve. Immediately water will begin spraying into the engine room under great pressure. You will get wet. Open the valve wide. After the valve is fully open, remove the wheel and toss it as far away as possible. The water will now be roaring into the engine room. The noise will last until the area is submerged, which should take from five to ten minutes.


With your wrench, bash and bend the valve stem so that it will not be possible to close the valve.


Step Eleven: Spraying fire extinguishers. While onboard , locate two or three of the small “ABC” fire extinguishers. ABC’s are very corrosive to electrical equip­ment, especially electronics, wiring, instruments, and gauges. Take the ABC’s to the bridge and engine room. Shake them first, then spray on radios and gyros, into electrical outlets, junction boxes, power panels, etc. Now, even if the ship is saved prior to a complete scuttling, you can sleep soundly knowing that you have cost the whalers a lot of money and firmly glued Murphy (and his Law) to the ship for a long time.

Step Twelve: Retreat. Take your time. Don’t rush and risk falling and hurting yourself. Leave your tools behind. If possible, padlock the engine room door shut after you leave. This will buy the sea more time to sink the ship if the sabotage is discovered right away. To save the ship, high-volume pumps must be deployed into the engine room before it sinks. Every minute of delay is crucial to prevent the saving of the ship. For good measure, to deter any ship savers who might show up, you can empty a tear gas or CS/pepper spray canister into the engine room as you exit. (Save a last blast to coat the door knob.) It is a serious crime to take tear gas on a commercial airplane. Don’t do it. [EDITORS’ NOTE: See the objections to the use of tear gas elsewhere in Ecodefense (pages 314 and 322, for example). Many ecodefenders believe that pepper sprays are just as effective and much safer (see page 318).]

Step Thirteen: Leave the Country: It will take hours to determine if sabotage was responsible and further hours to organize a search for a suspect. Do not speed away. Travel at normal speeds. Do not attract attention to yourself. Put on clean clothes. Dress like a tourist or a businessman. It is helpful if you know train, bus, or airplane schedules in advance of your retreat. You should take ground transportation which leaves no trail, away from the area, out of the country and far away. If you simply grab the first plane out, your name can be easily pulled up later from passenger lists. Consider a short (three to four day) well-deserved vacation before flying back or using other traceable transport.

Assuming you have not used explosives or violence against people, it will be difficult for the site country to extradite you, but they may try. Each case is different. In the past, countries have not even tried because of the potential embarrass­ment of a media trial. They want to keep their eco-crimes quiet. It is your personal choice whether you want to further embarrass the country where you did your scuttling by participating in such a trial. Some scuttlers have turned themselves in after the fact. Others have not. Some dream of becoming the “serial scuttler.”


If you have not had an opportunity to scout out your target, you can still damage a whaling ship. Perhaps you stumbled on an illegal whaler or other ecologically destructive ship in the course of your vacation. You don’t have the tools to do the big thing. Well, not to worry. With a good sharp knife, you can cause a bit of aggravation. Make sure no one is looking and it’s late at night, then return to the ship, and cut all the mooring lines. This is best done on a stormy or windy night when the wind is blowing away from the mooring. You won’t sink the ship but will cause some serious problems and, if you are lucky, the ship will go aground.

You can destroy or disconnect shore power to the ship. This will cause the ship batteries to drain and cold storage cargo to thaw. You can also contaminate fuel or oil by adding glycerin, salt, water, sand, beer, etc. through filter pipes or fuel tank vents. Pour fluids, sand, small rocks, (quick setting concrete?), down exhaust piping of main engines or generators. If it is raining or snowing, you can prop open or remove the “caps” on the top of these pipes. This will allow Mother Nature the opportunity to piss down inside the engines and thus avenge herself.


Get a job on a fishing vessel, whaler, sealer, oil tanker, etc. (Don’t use your real name and address. Revenge is ti. bitch.) As a crew member, you will have plenty of opportunities to practice subtle sabotage. Subtle sabotage includes cutting electrical wires, pouring destructive chemicals or materials into engines, pump­ing sea water into fuel or lube oil pipes, cutting lube oil systems, directing salt­water into fresh water cooling systems… the possibilities are endless. Or perhaps you might want to simply bring on board a small concealable video or still camera to collect documentation on illegal and unethical activity by your employers.

Sea Shepherd’s Captain Watson relates that when he served as a seaman with the Norwegian and Swedish merchant marine in the late sixties and early seventies, he was responsible for informing the U.S. Coast Guard about the dump­ing of trash and oil in U.S. waters. This led to significant fines against his unsuspecting employers.


The physics of ramming a ship are simple. Seven hundred tons of ship colliding with seven hundred tons of ship creates incredible force, most of which is ab­sorbed by the great volume of metal involved. It’s not like a car accident. You must simply ensure that there is no person standing on deck at the point of impact and that you do not strike the ship in an accommodation or work space. The storage hold is the point to aim for unless you are just giving the ship an intimidating blow to the stern. The blow should not be enough to breach the hull but enough of a nudge to be noticed. When ramming outlaw drift-netters, the objective is to destroy the net-retrieving power blocks. This is done by coming from behind at a slight angle, and then striking the ship where the power block is situated on the side of the

hull, thus making the power block inoperable.

If your objective is maximum damage or sinking, then strike with your bow with as much force as possible at the midship area. The bow is the strongest part of a ship’s hull and the midship area is the weakest. Sea Shepherd likes to reinforce the bow with twenty or thirty tons of concrete and gravel. Watson relates that when he rammed the pirate whaler Sierra in 1979, he “hit her midship section at full speed at just a slight angle. The angle prevented me from becoming stuck in the whaler and allowed me to disentangle myself.”


Drift nets are panels of monofilament fish netting laid down by a drift-netter. One drift net can range from three miles to over sixty miles in length. To confis­cate nets, you have to have a very expensive power block. A simple alternative is to attach a weight of a few hundred pounds to a section of the net. If you can sink part of the net, you will sink the whole net.

A forty-mile-long net can be sunk completely in two miles of ocean. The reason for this is that the styrofoam floats on the nets compress at sixty fathoms, losing their buoyancy and increasing the weight of the sinking net. A physicist has determined that as the net descends into the depths, it spirals and tangles along its length. Upon reaching the bottom, the destructive web of monofilament is pulled into a tight monofilament rope. It will not biodegrade but it will be quickly buried in the muck and debris on the ocean floor.

One great advantage of sinking a drift net is that you can attach the weight to the net miles away from the vessel deploying it. Long lines can be sunk in a similar manner.


“Over the course of my organization’s history,” Watson recounts, “I have had occasion to confront the naval forces of Norway, Canada, Portugal, Mexico, and the Soviet Union. We have been rammed ourselves twice, fired at, and depth charged. On every occasion we have survived the encounter by refusing to comply. This is not a game of poker. Before you leave port, every crew member under­stands the risk and that if there is a confrontation we will not back down. It is very difficult to board a moving vessel and as long as the ship is moving, it is possible to escape. One important point is to never carry firearms, legal or otherwise when confronting governments. Possession of firearms can instigate a “justifiable’ attack.”


Sea Shepherd favors several techniques in this area. Boarding a moving ship is difficult enough, but the difficulty can be greatly increased by utilizing a pie­filling gun. This is a water monitor or water cannon hooked up to a hose, which, when dropped into a barrel of pie filling (obtainable as surplus from the U.S. Department of Agriculture), can send 45 gallons of chocolate or Boston Cream with moderate force, thus “sliming” your attackers and causing an embarrassed retreat.

The deck of a ship can be cleared with a glass vial of butyric acid, the foulest smelling substance known with the possible exception of Pseudocorpse, which is used to train police dogs to find dead human bodies.

Delivery of butyric acid can be made from remote-controlled small model air­planes by the intrepid eco-defender who wishes to command an eco-defense aircraft carrier. Model airplanes are also very useful for crashing into ship’s radar and radio equipment.


Sea Shepherd is a believer in the necessity for ecodefense tactics and a good sense of humor in international law enforcement. Since 1977, they have commanded six ships. In 1994, they acquired a submarine. A spokesperson for the Canadian Navy told the media that he thought it was ridiculous that a conser­vation group had a submarine and that, in his opinion, they did not have the skills to deploy it.

“I was forced to embarrass the Canadian Navy” Watson recalls, “by respond­ing that since World War II, my organization had sunk more ships, boarded more ships, and rammed more ships than the Canadian Navy, and that I didn’t think the Canadian Navy had the expertise or the experience to presume to pass judgment on our abilities.”

Maritime monkeywrenchers as well as terrestrial monkeywrenchers should remember what anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “never depend on gov­ernment or institutions to create change. All significant social change in human history was accomplished by individual action.”

The oceans of the world are in desperate times, but hope can be found in those who can, and dare, to act.