--> Conservationists row over ship hit by Japanese whaling vessel | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

Conservationists row over ship hit by Japanese whaling vessel

The ship's captain, Peter Bethune, today claimed that, contrary to Sea Shepherd's earlier claims, he was ordered to scuttle the damaged £2m boat by the conservation society's self-styled "master and commander", Paul Watson, against his own wishes, to increase the publicity generated by the whaler's attack. Bethune told New Zealand's National Radio he believed Watson wanted the sinking to "garner sympathy with the public and to create better TV".

The claim is the latest twist of a saga that has set a media-savvy international conservation charity backed by Hollywood stars including Pierce Brosnan and Sean Penn against the powerful Japanese whaling industry. Bethune's claim is given added piquancy because he had a strong attachment to the biofuelled boat, which looked like a cross between the Batmobile and a stealth bomber. He skippered the craft to the world speed record for a powerboat circumnavigating the globe in 2008, before it was bought with the help of Ady Gil, a Hollywood lighting-equipment magnate, to become a new spearhead for Sea Shepherd's anti-whaling efforts.

TV footage shortly after the incident shows him on board the wrecked craft, looking distraught and saying: "The whole sleeping quarters is demolished. If someone was in there, they would be dead."

"Paul Watson was my admiral," Bethune, 45, said on New Zealand radio. "He gave me an order and I carried it out. I was ashamed of it at the time and I'm ashamed of it now. It was all done in secret. I was ordered not to tell any of the crew, not my family and especially not Ady Gil."