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"

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      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.



      Paul Watson

      Jan 10, 2013 at 7:17pm

      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.

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      Jan 10, 2013 at 8:17pm

      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.

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      shane hinks

      Jan 10, 2013 at 9:44pm

      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.


      Jan 10, 2013 at 10:05pm

      "without being convicted of any felony" is a long way from not having been convicted of any crimes. Spin, doctor Watson, spin.

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      Jan 11, 2013 at 12:21am

      do they also hunts for those people who are after sharkfins??

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      Jan 11, 2013 at 12:44am

      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.

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      Anna, Ireland.

      Jan 11, 2013 at 1:09am

      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.

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      Dave Rideough

      Jan 11, 2013 at 8:51am

      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.

      Martin Dunphy

      Jan 11, 2013 at 9:58am

      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.

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      Jan 11, 2013 at 10:41am

      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!

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