Captain Peter Hammarstedt

25 Nov '19

@Flavio Gasperini / Sea Shepherd

A warrior, defender and protector of the sea. Captain Peter Hammarstedt from Sea Shepherd shares his quest on ending illegal fishing and saving marine wildlife. Sharing the challenges he has faced, his accomplishments with Sea Shepherd and their current mission.

Imagine being at sea, waves reaching 13 to 14 meter heights, looking bright white and the rough wind splashing against the waves. Making it almost impossible to tell apart the white foam of a breaking wave and the ice in the water. Not forgetting another crucial part; you are on a ship. It’s a 500 ton ship, no back up motor, basically, if you lose the engine, you lose the ship.

With nowhere to go, you have no other option then to ride out this weather. Unsurprisingly, these are the moments when Peter feels most intimidated at sea. “It is very humbling, you recognise how small we are as a species on this planet but it's also terrifying. There is a certain element of control that you have to leave behind”.

“I wanted to be one of those people in that boat. To put my body on the line and get physically in the way and interfere with this kind of hunt”. 

Life Story - It all started with an image of a dead whale being pulled up the ramp of an 8.000 ton factory whaling ship in the Antarctic. Full of disbelief and shock, the 14 year old Peter was left feeling restless. “I just couldn't shake the image. It shocked me to the core that whaling was still happening” he said. Also visible in this image was a small rigid zodiac boat which was operated by Greenpeace. This boat was trying to get between the whales and the whalers. This little boat that was up against this huge factory ship, showed Peter there was still hope. Looking back at this moment he says: “I wanted to be one of those people in that boat. To put my body on the line and get physically in the way and interfere with this kind of hunt”. After learning more about illegal fishing and whale hunting, Peter decided to wait until he reached the minimum age of 18 to submit a crew application.

Joining Sea Shepherd

It was at the age of 17 when Peter started volunteering at Greenpeace, where he during a night watch shift learned more about Sea Shepherd. “The proactive Sea Shepherd approach appealed to me a lot more than what I was doing with Greenpeace”. Shortly after, Iceland re-joined the International Whaling commission and resumed their whale hunt.

As a reaction, Sea Shepherd announced they were heading to Iceland to directly intervene and prevent any whales from being killed. Having developed a strong connection to whales and being a Swede, Peter really wanted to join the crew on this pursuit. So he did. “In some ways I felt personally responsible. It was the country of Sweden that had cast the deciding vote which ultimately allowed this to happen” he explained.

And then came the Thunder 

When we ask Peter about his greatest achievement, he tells us how they shutdown the most wanted illegal fishing boat in the world; the Thunder. This ship, wanted by Interpol, had been blacklisted for 10 years and had made a profit of approximately 60 million dollars. Literally, Nobody was able to stop this ship, not even governments. Chasing the vessel for 10 days, Sea Shepherd was set out to accomplish something nobody had ever done before. “We thought we would just find this boat in the Antarctic somewhere, operating.


Our next step was to follow it for however long it took, until a nearby government could arrest the captain and the crew” Peter explained. Ultimately the illegal fishing boat couldn't shake them off. After Sea Shepherd had followed the Thunder for 110 days, the captain of the Thunder decided to sink his own vessel, closely to São Tomé, and destroy the evidence on board. Ironically, Sea Shepherd had to rescue the captain of the Thunder and his 39 crew members.

They were later prosecuted and the captain and two of his officers were sentenced to three years in prison, in São Tomé. Sea Shepherd gained global knowledge and praise for their pursuit even reaching the front page of the New York Times. Furthermore, it inspired global dialogue about the illegal fishing problem. Peter adds: “That dedication by Sea Shepherd is what ultimately stopped this ship. It wasn’t a government. I'm incredibly proud of that!

On mission in Africa

Currently, Sea Shepherd is working with African coastal states like Liberia and offers assistance to the different governments around this continent with the arrest of illegal fishing boats. For every day that one of the illegal fishing boats is detained at port, up to tens of thousands of animals are saved. While talking about his current campaign, Peter reflects: “We are saving 10,000 animals every day when one of these ships is detained."

Every life counts

Overall, it’s about our own individual lifestyle choices. From what we eat to what we wear and far beyond that. Peter believes the best approach is combining your individual passion with your skills and it's about how you can combine them to really make a change. One that they can fight for their whole life. It's only sustainable if it’s really personal and too often people are overwhelmed by just how big these issues are”. 

When looking into the future Peter points out how we live by the idea of limitless economic growth in a world that is limited for expansion.
“It can only produce so much timber and so much fish in a limited amount of time and it has a limited caring capacity. With the lifestyles that we have, our planet can only take so many people. The trend of how things are going is incredibly frightening but the solutions are there too. The planet has this incredible opportunity to rebound. The earth is very resilient. If we can put measures in place for instance for the oceans, being my kind of sphere, we can establish marine protected areas and increase the enforcement of them. I think then, the oceans can rebound very quickly”.

“Every life that we can save, is good enough. If that's all that we can do, that's good enough for me. It has to be”.

With his final words, Captain Peter Hammarstedt encourages us to act, no matter how overwhelming it may seem. “We look at everything from deforestation to what is happening with the oceans to climate change, there are so many excuses and reasons not to get involved. Just because the opposition seems so overwhelming. I think you have to take a look at what you can do within the sphere that you can control. Every life that we can save, is good enough. If that's all that we can do, that's good enough for me. It has to be”.

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