Environmental gadfly and fugitive Paul Watson is back in the Antarctic (Southern) Ocean and awaiting the Japanese whaling fleet for his ninth campaign against what the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society deems illegal whaling.
This time, though, he told the Georgia Straight, he has stepped down voluntarily from his duties as captain of the SS Steve Irwin and president of Sea Shepherd U.S.; he has also removed himself, at least temporarily, from his duties as a director of Sea Shepherd Australia.
The changes are the result of a December U.S. Court of Appeals decision in Washington state that overturned a February 2012 ruling won by Sea Shepherd. That victory came against an attempted preliminary injunction brought against the society by Japan’s so-called Institute for Cetacean Research, a cover for that country’s government-sponsored whaling, allegedly for scientific research.
The latest injunction prohibits Sea Shepherd from getting closer than 450 metres to any Japanese whaling-fleet vessel in the Southern Ocean.
In one of several interruption-plagued interview attempts by satellite phone before the connection finally severed, Watson told the Straight from the bridge of the Steve Irwin in the Southern Ocean on the evening of January 9: "As a U.S. citizen named in that court order, I cannot be involved in any [prohibited antiwhaling] action.…and I’ve stepped down from the board of Sea Shepherd USA and Sea Shepherd Australia."
The latter organization is the main director of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s controversial and well-known eight-year campaign against Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, a 50-million-square-kilometre area around Antarctica established in 1994 by the International Whaling Commission as a commercial-whaling-free zone.
Watson—who said that he had sailed from New Zealand four days previous and had "crossed the 60-degree [S] latitude"—stressed that he will be acting "as an observer, but I will not be breaking that injunction".
He pointed out to the Straight that Sea Shepherd has two Dutch-owned and -flagged vessels as well as two Australian-flagged and -owned ships, both of which he said are not subject to the terms of the U.S.-issued court order.
Before he could answer a question about whether that meant he would be planning some antiwhaling tactics that would see him removed from those vessels before they closed within 450 metres of the Japanese fleet—which Watson said he expected to encounter on or around January 21: "They’re far to the north"—the phone call terminated and could not be resumed despite repeated attempts to reestablish the connection.
Prior to that, Watson noted of the organization he founded decades ago: "For 35 years, the Sea Sheperd Conservation Society has done what it has done without injuring anybody or being convicted of any felony."
Watson wrote for the Straight in the 1970s and corresponded from the earliest Greenpeace antisealing campaigns in Atlantic Canada. Those dispatches were titled "Shepherds of the Labrador Front", from which he fashioned the name of his present society. (His Straight ID card is pictured at the top of this article.)
In Germany last July, Watson allegedly skipped bail after 70 days of house arrest after being arrested in May by authorities in response to a Costa Rican warrant concerning a high-seas incident with a fishing boat 10 years ago.
Sea Shepherd alleged at the time that the Costa Rican government was acting at the behest of Japan, which, it claimed, would attempt to extradite Watson to Japan if he was shipped from Germany to the Central American country.
Germany issued a warrant for Watson’s arrest, and international police agency Interpol issued a "red notice" alert for the activist’s detection.
At a news conference in Hobart, Australia, on January 7, Sea Shepherd Australia announced that Watson’s captaincy of the Steve Irwin would be assumed by Capt. Siddharth Chakravarty and that Sea Shepherd U.S. board member Marnie Gaede would take over his duties for that organization. It was also reported that former Australian senator Bob Brown would direct this year’s Southern Ocean antiwhaling campaign, dubbed Operation Zero Tolerance.