20 Mar 2013

Sea Shepherd founder jumps ship before Australia

The controversial Sea Shepherd founder, Paul Watson, who is wanted by Interpol, left the environmental group’s fleet of anti-whaling ships before they docked in Australia.

Sea Shepherd ships collide with Japanese whaling fleet (R)

Three Sea Shepherd ships docked at the southern port of Williamstown after weeks of harassing Japanese whalers in the Antarctic Ocean during the annual whaling season.

But the 62-year-old founder of the Sea Shepherd organisation, which was last month labelled “pirates” by the largest federal court in the US, was not on board.

It is thought that he left the ship before it docked, fearing arrest.

But Australian officials said they had no plans to arrest Paul Watson (pictured below), despite him being wanted in various countries.

The Sea Shepherd founder has dual Canadian and US citizenship, but said he would not return to the US because of fears he would be handed over to the Japanese.

Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd founder (R)

Interpol, the France-based international police organization, said on its website that Mr Watson is wanted by Japan for “hooliganism/vandalism/damage, life and health.”

He is also wanted by Costa Rica for allegedly endangering a fishing vessel crew in 2002.

Mr Watson also fled from Germany in July after being arrested at the behest of the Costa Rican government.

Australia: no arrest warrant

But Australian officials said there were no plans to arrest the Sea Shepherd founder. Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus told parliament that he would not have been arrested on setting foot in the country, because no Australian arrest warrant existed.

Mr Dreyfus would not say whether Japan or any other country had requested his extradition – the necessary step before an arrest warrant can be issued. “It is a longstanding Australian government policy…not to disclose whether Australia has received an extradition request from another country,” Mr Dreyfus said.

The sea-borne conservationists in the Sea Shepherd organisation are considered terrorists by the Japanese government because of their attempts to undermine the country’s whale fishing efforts. They collide into the Japanese fishing boats, and this year stopped any whales being killed in the January whaling season by scattering the fishing fleet.

But Mr Watson and his band of activists are hailed as heros by animal rights campaigners and anti-whalers.

Australia has been a vocal critic of Japanese whaling in the Antarctic. And Mr Dreyfus told parliament that he expects the case brought by Australia – that whaling violates Japan’s international obligations – will be heard this year by the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

The Sea Shepherd vessels will remain in Williamstown for several months while they complete repairs. One of those ships, the Bob Barker, collided with a Japanese whaler last month.

On the Sea Shepherd website, Mr Watson says: “I have been honoured to serve the whales, dolphins, seals – and all the other creatures on this Earth”.

He adds: If the whales survive and flourish, if the seals continue to live and give birth, and if I can contribute to ensuring their future prosperity, I will be forever happy.”