The stars who are forking out for the campaign to save the whales

While Sea Shepherd is appealing against a Tax Office ruling that it is not a charity, the Herald uncovers where the group’s funding comes from, writes Andrew Darby.

AS SEA SHEPHERD conservationists claimed their first coup of this summer’s whaling conflict off Australia, they made sure to thank their sponsors.

The activists had found the secretive Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru using a spy in the sky, an aerial drone. Launched from the deck of the Steve Irwin, it returned a clear image of the factory ship off the West Australian coast.

The battery-powered Osprey drone cost $US7600, according to its maker, Jimmy Prouty of Hangar 18 UAV. Imaging and detection equipment bumped the cost up furthe

 

While Sea Shepherd is appealing against a Tax Office ruling that it is not a charity, the Herald uncovers where the group’s funding comes from, writes Andrew Darby.

AS SEA SHEPHERD conservationists claimed their first coup of this summer’s whaling conflict off Australia, they made sure to thank their sponsors.

The activists had found the secretive Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru using a spy in the sky, an aerial drone. Launched from the deck of the Steve Irwin, it returned a clear image of the factory ship off the West Australian coast.

The battery-powered Osprey drone cost $US7600, according to its maker, Jimmy Prouty of Hangar 18 UAV. Imaging and detection equipment bumped the cost up further.


Supporters ... from left Stephanie Gilmore, Cameron Ling, Michelle Rodriguez, Sean Penn and Pierce Brosnan.Supporters … from left Stephanie Gilmore, Cameron Ling, Michelle Rodriguez, Sean Penn and Pierce Brosnan. Photo: Wayne Taylor/ Getty Images/AP

A pair of Ospreys was donated to Sea Shepherd by two environmentally focused businesses in New Jersey: Bayshore Recycling and Moran Office of Maritime and Port Security.

”We can cover hundreds of miles with these drones and they have proven to be valuable assets,” said the Sea Shepherd leader, Paul Watson.

However effective the drones are, their costs were small change for an organisation that draws millions of dollars a year to its US base and is growing in Australia despite disputes over taxes.

Sean Connery.Sean Connery. Photo: AP

Much bigger single donations will help the group cover multi-million-dollar costs of running this year’s Antarctic campaign. But key to its operation will be people whose work costs nothing.

Mr Watson is president of a tax-exempt charity registered in Washington state. Japan tried hard in 2009 to have the US withdraw this status, according to US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks.

Annual returns filed to registering authorities in Washington show the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society gained revenue, chiefly from ”solicitations”, of $US11.4 million in 2010. At the end of the year it had assets of $US6.2 million, slightly up on the previous year.

Martin Sheen.Martin Sheen.

Its chief financial officer, Nicholas Makhani, said 84 per cent of the income came from individuals and the rest from merchandise such as T-shirts.

The annual return said $US8 million was spent on ”program services” – charitable functions. The rest, $US3.4 million, covered administrative and fund-raising expenses.

From a base in a modest house on San Juan Island, inWashington state, it directs a paid workforce of 30 people, including three in Australia, on salaries of $30,000 to $60,000. Mr Watson is paid $96,000.

”But I brought in $180,000 last year in appearance fees and royalties, which I gave back,” he said this week. ”I also donated my holiday pay.”

Its biggest capital costs are three ships that roam the seas, campaigning mainly against whaling and overfishing.

Charity status has encouraged some big donors, including a US game show host, Bob Barker, 88. A long-time advocate of animal rights, he gave Sea Shepherd $US5 million to buy and equip a long-range pursuit ship.

And a Hollywood executive, Ady Gil, paid more than $US1 million for a fast trimaran that bore his name until it was lost in a collision with the Japanese ship, Shonan Maru No. 2.

Other rich Americans figure strongly behind Sea Shepherd.

Doug Tompkins, the co-founder of the global clothing brands, Esprit and North Face, helped fill the Steve Irwin’s fuel tank – a six-figure bill.

Mr Watson would not name other big donors but said key finances came from people who pledged monthly donations.

In Australia, the family of Steve Irwin, the late TV personality, maintains strong ties with Mr Watson. Actors Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Sean Penn and Martin Sheen are all on a Sea Shepherd advisory board.

Some of the group’s base funding comes from the Dutch national lottery, which has allocated €500,000 a year.

To buy fuel Sea Shepherd has a $US750,000 ”access fee” agreed with the makers of the Whale Wars reality TV series on the Animal Planet channel in the US.

Despite these big injections of money, the public will always find a Sea Shepherd campaigner beside the ship at the dock to seek cash or in-kind donations.

Mr Watson did a fund-raising tour of Australian cities before the present campaign.

This culminated with a gathering of 700 in Geelong in November organised by Cameron Ling, the captain of the AFL premiership team. The champion surfer Stephanie Gilmore was also present.

Mr Watson predicted this event would put the fund-raising tour within reach of a $250,000 target.

But to Sea Shepherd’s frustration it cannot obtain charity status in Australia, and has just been hit with a big GST bill.

Its Australian director, Jeff Hansen, said the group was taking the Tax Office to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The Tax Office argues that Sea Shepherd does not fit the ”animal welfare” category, which strictly requires a charity to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife.

Mr Hansen said: ”We try to help out with things like pilot whale strandings, but we are into preventing animals from needing rescue and rehabilitation.”

Another slug came last month when Customs decided Sea Shepherd’s ships should be charged stores duty and GST for voyages to the Antarctic that touched on no other country.

”In the past Customs and Border Protection has incorrectly accepted some of the Sea Shepherd vessels as being on an international voyage,” a spokeswoman said. Refuelling the Bob Barker adds $75,000 in GST.

In the meantime, the group has no shortage of free labour. Apart from the ships’ officers, almost all the 88 crew on this season’s campaign are unpaid volunteers who get a bunk, food and protective clothing for the voyage.

THE SYDNEY MORNNG HERALD

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~ by FSVSF Admin on 13 January, 2012.

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