In 2004, Captain Pete Bethune had an idea to change the world’s perception of bio-fuels, by building a radical new boat to set a new world record for circling the globe running biodiesel fuel. It took a year to raise sponsorship, and a year to then build the vessel, which was quickly dubbed “The World’s Coolest Boat”. The team made an initial attempt in 2007 that failed, but then in 2008, they returned for a second attempt that was ultimately successful. A time of 60 days 23 hours and 49 minutes was recorded, smashing the old record by over 2 weeks. The record was ratified by UIM, and still stands today. The team also took the vessel on an extensive outreach tour, visiting 186 cities over 3 years, and had over a quarter million visitors walk aboard her.
In 2009, Earthrace partnered with Sea Shepherd. The vessel was sold to Ady Gil, and as part of the deal, Captain Bethune and his team would crew her to Antarctica and disrupt Japanese Whaling. In an event that shook the conservation world, Earthrace was controversially rammed by Japanese security vessel the Shonan Maru 2. Sea Shepherd made the decision to scuttle and abandon the vessel. Captain Bethune subsequently boarded the Shonan Maru 2 in the middle of the night from a jetski. He presented the Captain with a bill for US$3m for the damage to Earthrace. He was taken back to Japan, and incarcerated for 5-months in a maximum security prison. In many ways the ramming, and Captain Bethune’s court case galvanized public opinion against whaling, and it led to significant protests, especially in Australia and New Zealand. The Australian government eventually buckled, and just prior to Captain Bethune’s release from prison, announced court action in the International Court of Justice in the Hague, over their illegal whaling program. Japan lost the case, which saw them withdraw from Antarctica. They have subsequently resumed whaling, but their self-imposed quota has been reduced by 2/3. In many ways Captain Bethune, and the crews of Earthrace and Sea Shepherd were part of an historic period in the anti-whaling movement that has significantly reduced whaling in Antarctica.
In 2011, Captain Bethune decided to develop a new team to focus on challenging conservation missions. He saw the areas of fisheries enforcement and anti-poaching needing new highly-skilled teams to be effective. He also recognized the opportunity to have his team partner with government units involved in fisheries and anti-poaching, giving him legitimacy of operation, and ensuring that criminals caught could be legally arrested, and prosecuted. Earthrace recruited former military personnel from various specialist units, including US Navy SEALs, US Marine Recon, French 1er (SAS), and US Army Rangers. Earthrace ran their first conservation campaign in 2012, and since then have run missions in all corners of the globe. Initially the team focused on fisheries, and this has seen them catch, arrest and prosecute countless crews involved in illegal fishing. The team ran campaigns to stop wildlife poaching, and successfully closed 2 wildlife smuggling rings in Asia. The team closed several illegal gold mining operations in Central America. In some cases the team has also worked on simply exposing illegal activities.
The first mission Captain Bethune and his team undertook after Japan was to covertly film the barbaric seal clubbing in Nambia. His team was inserted offshore by Zodiac, they swam over a mile into a heavily guarded De Beers diamond mine, and after a harrowing 3 days days of avoiding patrols and running out of food and water, they finally managed to film the massacre. Footage of the mission was later converted into a one-hour TV format. A full series was pitched to TV networks such as Discovery and National Geographic, however they were reluctant to take on the risk – Many of the proposed missions were extremely dangerous. Also, because the show is fully unscripted, it was expensive to make. Earthrace believed in the show however, eventually raising the funds to go and film the first series themselves. Once completed, the show was renamed “The Operatives”, and was quickly picked up by Discovery, Pivot and many other networks, with 2 seasons aired in over 90 countries around the world.
Further info can be seen at:https://www.earthrace.net/