Captain Siddharth Chakravarty of Sea Shepherd Global draws you into the campaign against poaching in Antarctica
Anyone who’s had an ocean encounter will acknowledge the unmatched joy of ducking their head underwater or spending a day at the beach hearing the pounding of the waves. We are awed by the oceans because of their unstoppable force, inspired by their sheer size, sustained by the life in them.
I’ve been on the oceans for the last 14 years. I joined my first ship just four days after turning 18 and, over the next decade, rose up the ranks ferrying timber, petroleum and chemical products across the world. My first shift towards changing the direction of my life came in 2009. I was born in Bhopal in 1983; when I was just 18 months old, the world’s worst industrial disaster struck the city. Union Carbide accidentally released a toxic, odourless gas, Methyl isocyanate (MIC), which killed close to 16,000 people instantly and affected more than 5,00,000 people over the next three decades. I survived only thanks to a wind that kept the gas cloud away from the part of the city in which I slept peacefully. On the 25th anniversary of this disaster, I was in the middle of the Pacific on a chemical tanker carrying a cargo very similar to MIC. I had loaded it in the US using breathing apparatus and a chemical suit, knowing fully well that the smallest leak would result in instant death. As I read about the families still awaiting justice for the death of their loved ones, something deep inside me found the idea of working for a chemical company revolting. I had survived 25 years ago; I wanted that chance to count for more.
In early 2011, I joined Sea Shepherd Global to be on the frontline of marine conservation. My first mission was to patrol the Mediterranean Sea along the coasts of Libya and Syria during the blue-fin tuna fishing season. Four years and three Antarctic whale-defences later, in December, 2014, I co-led Operation Icefish, a campaign that shut down toothfish poaching in the Southern Ocean. Today, my work involves an array of activities related to the ocean that combine ocean policy and law, investigating human-rights abuses, working with various academicians and researchers to study value addition in the seafood industry, implementing at-sea enforcement measures, captaining ships on campaigns and advising governments on cross-border and inter-agency cooperation. I have recently got involved with working with groups on the issue of plastic pollution in the oceans.