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Whale Lovers Fight One Another in Court

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A man who chartered a ship to protest Japanese whaling sued the host of the Animal Planet series "Whale Wars" for $5 million, claiming the TV host tried to sink the ship to get publicity for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Ady Gil and Earthrace Limited sued the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Paul Watson, its principal and host of "Whale Wars," in Superior Court.

Gil, an animal rights activist, accuses Watson, 62, of Toronto, also an environmentalist, of breach of contract, fraud, negligence, conversion and unfair business practices.

The Ady Gil is a 78-meter trimaran, formerly called Earthrace.

In 2008, then-Sea Shepherd member Pete Bethune captained the ship, which can be powered by biodiesel fuel and other eco-friendly sources, to circumnavigate the world.

Gil became a majority shareholder of the Earthrace in 2009, buying it from Bethune for $1.5 million. He then chartered the vessel, renamed Ady Gil, to Sea Shepherd and Watson for $1 per year, according to the complaint.

Gil claims the ship lost its "nose" after a collision with the Japanese whaler Shonan Maru No. 2 in early 2010. But it was not a lost cause and could easily have been repaired on land, he claims.

Watson had other ideas for the ship, however, and sank it under cover of night to "gain favorable publicity" for Sea Shepherd, Gil claims.

"On January 6, 2010, the ship Ady Gil was rammed by a Japanese whaling ship, the Shonan Maru No. 2, while supporting Sea Shepherd's attempts to disrupt the Japanese whaling efforts in the South Pacific Ocean, activities that had been featured for several years in the Animal Planet's television program 'Whale Wars,'" the complaint states.

"Sea Shepherd, both through the Whaling Wars broadcasts and through more traditional public relations networks told the world that the collision with the Japanese whaling ship sank the Ady Gil."

Gil claims that Watson and Sea Shepherd "lied" about the incident to increase donations, and to rally support for their anti-whaling activities.

"To this date, Sea Shepherd continues to use the loss of the Ady Gil supposedly as a result of being rammed by the Japanese whaling vessel as a way of obtaining contributions from the public. And to this day, Sea Shepherd continues to deceive the public regarding what and who really sank the Ady Gil," according to the complaint.

Gil claims the Ady Gil was still afloat when Watson, as captain of the ship, plotted with crew members of the three-vessel anti-whaling armada - the Ady Gil, the Steve Irwin and the Bob Barker - to sink the ship. (Bob Barker, longtime host of "The Price is Right," is an animal rights activist, but not a party to the complaint.)

"Watson ordered Chuck Swift ('Swift') the captain of the Bob Barker, to flood the Ady Gil's engine compartment and turn off its GPS location device," the complaint states. "Swift then recruited Bethune and Luke Van Horn ('Van Horn') to assist him. Under cover of darkness, while others were sleeping, Swift, Bethune, and Van Horn carried out Watson's directive, and, to the extent possible, sank the Ady Gil. Because the material with which the hull of the Ady Gil is made is lighter than water, and therefore floats, it was impossible to completely submerge the vessel. However, by sinking it to the extent possible, and turning off its GPS locator, defendants made it extremely unlikely that it would be found floating in the vast Pacific Ocean like a Kevlar and carbon fiber iceberg.

"In furtherance of the scheme, Watson instructed Bethune and Swift to tell the media and the public, as Watson himself did, that the Ady Gil sank as a result to the collision. In fact, in the episode of 'Whale Wars' that depicted the collision, Watson was shown several times telling Bethune that he should take advantage of the opportunity and 'do all the media he can' regarding the incident."

Neither Bethune, Van Horn nor Swift are parties to the lawsuit.

Gil claims he uncovered the truth months later, when Bethune told him in an email what had really happened.

In the meantime, Gil says, at Sea Shepherd's request, he had hosted a fund raiser at his home to raise money to buy a new ship.

Gil claims none of that money was used to replace the Ady Gil.

Before chartering the ship, Sea Shepherd promised to convert Gil's $1 million donation to a loan, and agreed to take the ship to Israel so Gil's father could see the vessel before he died, according to the complaint.

But Gil's father died late last year without seeing the ship, and the loan was never converted, Gil claims.

He also claims that the group rescinded an October 2009 contract, ostensibly so it could return his $1 million donation to reflect the purchase of Earthrace. But that was a smokescreen so that Gil would buy Earthrace without any financial commitment from Sea Shepherd, Gil says in the complaint.

He claims that under a charter agreement, Sea Shepherd was to return the vessel to him and pay $500,000 to Bethune if it was destroyed. If the ship was not destroyed, Gil says, the group agreed to pay him $500,000.

Watson resigned from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society on Tuesday, after an appeals court issued an injunction in December barring him from being within 450 feet of Japanese whaling vessels.

Watson is also the subject of an Interpol international arrest warrant for skipping bail in Germany, the Canadian Broadcasting Company reported in December. Watson was charged with ramming a Costa Rican ship and endangering the life of its crew; he believed the ship was involved in illegal shark finning, according to the CBC.

Gil seeks $5 million in compensatory damages, restitution, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, punitive damages, and court costs.

He is represented by Mark Mazzarella, of San Diego.

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