Sea Shepherd's Paul Watson steps down as captain but still sails against Japanese whalers

The activist tells the Straight from the Antarctic Ocean that he will be "an observer"

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.

Comments (46) Add New Comment
Paul Watson
Sorry about the communications Martin but I think you got the gist of the story. To be clear, If any Sea Shepherd ship approaches within 500 yards of a whaling vessel I will not be on that vessel. Sea Shepherd will legally comply with the warrant but we will continue to block illegal whaling operations by Japanese whalers.
Rating: +84
Amazing one guy leading the charge against illegal Whaling and getting real results.

Good on him at least his got the Balls to stand for whats right.

As for Costa Rica issuing a Warrant on the behest of rich old Japan its time for Canadians to wake up and boycott Costa Rica and any Japanese Brand / Company.

Vote with your Dollars.
Rating: +47
shane hinks
As a born and bred Newfoundlander who grew up on the coastal waters during the Cod moritorium i know how it feels to have someone put a stop to my "traditional" way of life. Fortunately i fully understood at a young age that traditional doesnt mean economical, and how proper management can allow subsistence fishing while maintaining safe and thriving populations of all creatures. I fully support Paul and the entire Sea Shepherd crew for all they do in conserving the environment. If someone had managed the commercial cod fishery more effectively I would be able to continue with my traditional way of life instead of reading about it in books...and my children and my grandchildren would be able to experience their culture, heritage, traditions while being compassionate for the environment. Paul you are a myself and the rest of the world, the opposing parties are just ignorant as to how important the oceans are. More importantly the governing nations of this planet should be hoisting you on their shoulders, not trying to put you behind bars.
Rating: +71
"without being convicted of any felony" is a long way from not having been convicted of any crimes. Spin, doctor Watson, spin.
Rating: -52
do they also hunts for those people who are after sharkfins??
Rating: +35
SSCS is the parent organization that plans and executes the campaigns, all funding for this scampain went through the US, in effect making them responsible for the actions of the vessels during the scampaigns. Paul Watson was head of this org while soliciting donations, is a US citizen, and is in command of the fleet. Both Mr Watson and the US based SSCS are subject to US law and subject to an order from this court.

The specific items before the court involve issues of safety at sea under several international treaties such as SUA (Rome Convention) and UNCLOS. Though the US is not a signator to UNCLOS, they do support most of the provisions of that treaty including the portions on piracy. The US has far reaching power to extend jurisdiction to enforce these treaties and uphold their obligations under international law.

It is illegal to both interfere or attempt to interfere with the navigation of a vessel on the high seas under SUA. Both ramming and propfouling are arguably such interferences. The specific wording of SUA is here, see Art. 3

The specific US law that pertains to this is found in US Code, title 18, ss2280. Note the list of offences and the far reaching jurisdiction claimed by the US.

The Netherlands and Australia are both party to the same treaty.

Kevin is correct, a ''felony'' is a US term, watson can't say he hasn't been convicted of crimes equivalent to a felony in several countries.
Rating: -4
Anna, Ireland.
Thank you SeaShepherd (including Paul Watson in his capacity as observer) for protecting the beautiful whales again this year...the Whale Sanctuary will remain a Sanctuary..thanks to SeaShepherd's ongoing committment and dedication. Thank you and stay safe. As everybody knows at this stage the Japanese whale poachers are a dangerous cowardly lot...not to be trusted at any level.
Rating: +32
Dave Rideough
So many people ranting about “illegal” whaling and how Watson’s a “hero” for attacking whalers… ~sigh~. You’re on the Internet, guys. You have pretty much the sum total of human knowledge at your fingertips. You should know better.
Rating: -44
Martin Dunphy
Dave Rideough:

Speaking of the Internet, I respectfully suggest that Straight readers use that resource to Google "Dave Rideough" and "whaling" to make up their minds about whether or not he is a paid spokesperson for Japanese whaling interests.
Rating: +18
Paul, it is sad that you have to resort to this kind of action in order to stay in the action so to speak, but I am honored to have met you several years ago, and and proud to know that you are there on behalf of the citizens of this planet preventing this outrageous lie of scientific whaling. The japanese need to know this is no longer acceptable in our society and they need to stop this once and for all. You are absolutely right in saying if the oceans die, we die. You and those crew are truly noble folks, and without you, it would be an ecological disaster to allow those idiots to continue hunting whales that is in all standards, absolutely unacceptable, and those japanese ARE committing crimes against humanity. Please be careful and do send them home with a good welt on their asses. They need a good spank to let them know we, as citizens of this planet will not take this any more. God Speed to all Sea Shepherds, and Good hunting sir!
Rating: +11
@Jamie...since you speak about US Law as if you are a US Government Representative are you a Federal US Court Judge?

Watson has never said his Not subject to US Law and the US has not issued an Arrest Warrant for him currently.

Watson is following to the letter of the US Courts Ruling of the Injunction of not approaching closer than 450 Meters to the Japanese WHALING Fleet.

The "Warrant" issued by Costa Rica is highly suspect as is the 'Red' Notice which is usually reserved for Mass Murders, Crimes against Humanity and Jihadi Terrorist Leaders.

Watson is CLEARLY not in that group, in fact Watson has NEVER killed ANYONE!

What did Japan offer Costa Rica in return for that 'favour'.

Quoting the Criminal Code of a Country does not mean someone is guilty of breaking it.

Again the US has NOT issued ANY Criminal Charges against Watson ONLY a Civil Injunction not to be closer than 450 Meters to the Japanese Whaling Fleet.

Rating: -2
Just remember that Japan is not the only country killing these beautiful creatures. Sadly, there are others.
Rating: +3
Obey Da Watson
Paul Watson once said the following, "Arrest me or Shut Up," there's even a video of Conservations Grand Mufti himself bloviating for cameras:

So once again we get to watch millions of donor dollars spent on what amounts to Paul's own Captain Ahab delusions about saving whales. 35 years of this nonsense, faked assassinations, reality tv garbage, and media noise.

Strategy? Hardly, just an overweight psychotic media loon who is giving the Kardashians a run for their media domination over the next few months.

Keep jigging fat man, we love it when you throw your butter!
Rating: -23
ambrosia david
shane hinks, I embrace your letter! you have earned its living true. Paul Watson is to be lauded for his courage and tenacious good sense is an absolute inspiration. A great whale looked him in the eye, MET him, and his heart has never looked back from that living true. My heart beats now with the spirit-endeavour of Sea Shepherd as it journies south. I SING you on these days, specially 21st january, as the encounter point approaches. May we share your horizon and our distant 'observing' ADD STRENGTH.
Rating: +2
This is an unfortunate turn of events... Although I understand Paul Watson broke the law, it is clear to me that the underlying motive for this insistence towards putting him behind bars is the fact his actions disturb specific powerful players economical gain... This won't be the first or last time that fighting for a just cause makes an individual a or a group of people the target of a "profiteers clic"... Unfortunately economic gain and power will always win against matters such as long term ecological preservation. Human kind is by essence so near sited and lacks the long-term vision to apply change without immediate gain. Some of the people that posted here (like Dave Rideough) represent this fact very well and are also either dishonest, delusional, have a stake in this dirty business or plain dumb. Sea Shepherd as well as Paul Watson have all my support for having the guts to wear the "criminals" tag for the sake of our planet and by extension, humanity.
Rating: +8
shane hinks
thanks ambrosia david, i know that in the past Paul has not shown a great love for my fellow Newfoundlanders and have voiced his opinions, but what most fail to realize is that his comments are directed towards the politicians and the people involved in the commercial fishing/hunting/whaling/sealing/whatever and not at the typical sure Paul Watson would applaud me taking my family out for a day on the water to catch a Codfish, or to hunt a seal (humanely) or indulge in whatever national resource my province had to offer simply for the fact that it was subsistence and not commercial. Feeding your family and taking part in traditional ways of life is part of our existance on this planet and i believe EVERYONE has a right to embrace their heritage, but as a way of life NOT as a means of employment or profit. Commercial hunting does not, in my opinion, reflect heritage or way of life, it reflects GREED. Im also confident that if a Japanese family wanted to hunt a whale and use everything from the animal as a means of survival (food clothes energy, etc) that would be viewed as ok. the inuit people have been doing this since the beginning and have been very humane and responsible about it. They dont profit from it, they live off it. Thats where the mis judgement comes from... Paul isnt trying to take away a Country or Nations way of life and heritage, he's trying to prevent extinction due to greed and finance...If more people cared about the environment like Paul does they would understand why Sea Shepherd behaves the way they do in regards to commercial oceanic a Newfoundlander I have to understand that Paul Watson does not hate ME, when he spoke about Newfoundland in the negative sense it stung the people of Newfoundland and Labrador whom profit off the slaughter of our natural resources, and i feel he is justified because if you take away the commercial aspect of Newfoundland life, in time the environment will heal and people can partake in traditional hunting and fishing while maintaining a healthy environment... the balance of ying and yang some may call it. I dont blame the activists for me not being allowed to catch a codfish or having a Cod moritorium, I blame crooked government, money, and greed...
Rating: +9
shane hinks
just to clarify a couple points, First of all i would very much like to meet Mr. Watson some day and shake his hand for giving up his life to serve and protect the oceans, second of all I do believe that hunting and fishing are ok when properly maintained and humanely conducted, and finally i also believe that what Sea Sepherd does, although extremely controversial, is a necessity. If the Governments of the world were upholding the laws properly instead of letting blatant offenders of ocean abuse constantly get away with it because of some financial trade agreements, Watson could spend more time educating the people of the world about our oceans and less time getting arrested for disrupting illegal poaching by forceful means...i know that if i get caught hunting 1 bird in a sanctuary i go to jail, yet Japan hunts 1000 whales per year in a sanctuary and Sea Shepherd goes to jail for trying to prevent Japan from breakin the law...funny how money and power can trump over humanity...
Rating: -1
Martin Dunphy
Obey Da (Dave):

Just FYI: The fictional Capt. Ahab didn't try to save whales. He, sometimes obsessively, tried to kill whales.
And mocking a person's physical appearance in lieu of a coherent statement is an indication of intellectual bankruptcy.
Rating: +15
Could it be that a Mr. Patterson is going under a new persona this year as a Dave Rideough ?? If this is the same person then no doubt this new persona will be appearing in a number of news media commentaries this year as last year - basically a not-so-discreet mouth-piece for the whaler poachers.
Rating: 0

No I am not a judge or any sort of govt official. What I don't think has been made clear is that sea is responsible for any actions taken by any member of the crew, not just Paul, Paul is just trying to save himself but the org is still in danger if they violate the injunction. It doesn't matter who is at the helm the org financed this campaign and will be held accountable.

You are correct this is a civil case for now, if they violate this injunction that could change quickly.

I've known about the Costa Rica charges for years and wondered why they hadn't acted sooner, he had a court date in CR in June of 2006 but did not attend, now he acts surprised? I don't know who he thinks he's fooling, you maybe, the courts will not be fooled.
Rating: -14


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