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Founder of Sea Shepherd
The honor of a captain

Photo © Sea Shepherd

Paul Watson, the ebullient and charismatic president of Sea Shepherd, has resigned from his position at the head of the ecological association which is currently engaged in a new Antarctic campaign against Japanese whalers called "Zero Tolerance." He agreed to answer questions from Marine & Oceans from its flagship, the Steve Irwin, where he has taken refuge to avoid extradition to Japan.

Why have you resigned from Sea Shepherd which you’ve founded in 1977?

I have resigned only from Sea Shepherd USA to comply with an injunction issued to the Japanese whalers restricting our interventions against illegal whaling operations in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. This injunction was issued by the 9th District Court of the United States. It has no authority over our Dutch and Australian registered ships and international crews but it does apply to Sea Shepherd USA and myself. Therefore the campaign to oppose illegal whaling will continue but Sea Shepherd USA has withdrawn from it and I have resigned from Sea Shepherd USA so that I may participate in the campaign although I myself will not violate the court order. In February 2012, Japan was denied a temporary injunction by Judge Richard Jones. The case was set for trial in September 2013 but in December2012, three other judges gave the whalers their injunction by e mail without any legal explanation. We had to respond quickly to allow the campaign to carry on as scheduled but this meant removing Sea Shepherd USA from any connection with Southern Ocean activities. I remain President of all other Sea Shepherd chapters worldwide

What are the exact accusations against you?

The Japanese charges are based on allegations made by Pete Bethune, the captain of the Ady Gil, the vessel that was rammed and destroyed by the Japanese whaling ship Shonan Maru. Bethune boarded the Japanese vessel to confront the captain who destroyed his ship in January 2010. He was arrested and taken back to Japan and charged with trespassing, obstruction of business and hooliganism. He actually boarded the vessel against my advice and that conversation was recorded on film. But once in Japan he made a deal with the Japanese and they charged me with ordering him to commit these offenses. In return they gave him a suspended sentence. Japan tried to issue a red notice to Interpol to have me arrested but it was denied because the request was politically motivated. In December 2011 the President of Costa Rica met with the Prime Minister of Japan in Japan. A few days later Costa Rica issued a request for a Red Notice against me with Interpol for an incident dating back to 2002 when I stopped a sharkfinning operation in Guatemalan waters at the request of the Guatemalan government against a Costa Rican fishing boat. The entire incident was filmed for the documentary film Sharkwater. No one was hurt and there was no property damage. The fishermen claimed I tried to kill them. We went to court in Costa Rica and the charges were dismissed and I was given clearance to depart Costa Rica. I did not hear another thing about it until the Germans arrested me in May 2012 at Frankfurt airport when I was on my way to the Cannes Film Festival.

Why have you left Frankfurt where you were assigned there ?

I was released from prison in Frankfurt after being incarcerated for eight days on a bond of 250,000 Euros. I was told that I had to remain in Frankfurt and that I would have to report to the Frankfurt police station twice a day. I did so for two months. Then in lateJuly on a Friday afternoon, I received a telephone call from a person within the German Ministry of Justice saying that on Monday when I was due to report to the Frankfurt police, I would be detained and extradited to Japan. I know that if sent to Japan I will not be released for years and I also know that I have not committed a crime. This is a political issue and I was surprised Germany would dirty their hands with it. They gave me little choice but to depart from Frankfurt. I reported to the police on Sunday and left Germany immediately afterwards.

Tell us everything. How –while under a warrant and researched for by Interpol- you have managed to reach your mother ship, the Steve Irwin ?

I left Germany and drove to the Netherlands where I boarded a sail boat and proceeded to cross both the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean to rejoin my ship Steve Irwin near Samoa. It took me four months to cover the distance. I met up with the Steve Irwin in late November and I have been onboard ever since.

Le Steve Irwin, flagship of the Sea Shepherd's fleet  / Photo Sea Shepherd

How do you think all these troubles with Justice will end ?

I have no way of knowing. I must remain at sea, Both my U.S. and Canadian passports continue to be held by the Germans although I have not committed any crime in Germany. Fleeing bail is not a crime in Germany actually. I received a First Australians passport from the Aboriginal community last week but this is not a recognized passport. Interpol originally dismissed these warrants as politically motivated but I think Germany’s voice added to that of Costa Rica and Japan motivated them to place me on the Red List. It is somewhat amusing when you think of it. I did not kill or injure anyone. I did not damage any property. All I did was interfere with illegal shark finning and whaling operations and that puts me in the same class apparently as war criminals and serial killers.

This 9th campaign in Antarctica has been baptised Zero Tolerance. How is it different from the previous campaigns ?

This is our largest and strongest effort to date. We have four ships, the Steve Irwin, Bob Barker, Sam Simon and Brigitte Bardot. We have 120 crew from twenty four different nations, including Japan. We have a helicopter and two drones and we have eight years of experience intercepting these whale poachers in the Southern Ocean. Last year the whalers killed 26% of their self assigned quota. The year before that they killed only 17%. Last year we cost them 20.2 million U.S. dollars in profit losses, and even more the year before. This is a great deal of money we have caused them to lose and that is the reason for the heavy-handed misuse of Interpol to stop me. But I am here on the Steve Irwin and we are guarding the gates of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and we will continue to do so until we guarantee the integrity ofthis Sanctuary. This is a Whale Sanctuary established by international law and this means that whales cannot be killed in a whale sanctuary. In Africa, elephant and rhino poachers are shot by rangers in the wildlife reserves. In this Sanctuary the world turns a blind eye. The difference is that in Africa the poachers are Black and they are poor whereas these Japanese poachers are wealthy. The objective of Operation Zero Tolerance is zero kills. Will we achieve it? We will certainly try but we will once again cost them their profits and I am confident they will take a very small percentage of their intened kills if they take any at all.

2013 is for Sea Shepherd the largest and strongest effort to date :  Four ships, one helicopter, two drones. Phtoto Sea Shepherd

For this new campaign, you have considerable means…

As stated above, we have four ships and aerial reconnaissance abilities. My greatest asset however is the courage and passion of my international crew of volunteers. I could not pay professionals to take the risks and do the work that these incredible volunteers do. It is the people, not the equipment that really make the difference

Who finances the buying, the maintenance of all those means ?

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is a relatively small international organization. We raise all our funds from supporters worldwide who donate to us. If not for the fact that 80% of our crew and shore staff are volunteers we would not be able to do what we do. Our organization runs on passion, not money. The money we do raise goes into the purchase, maintenance and operating costs of our ships and aircraft.

A Sea Shepherd team in front of a japonese whaler. Photo Sea Shepherd

Who are your strongest supports today ?

We are registered in numerous nations around the world on the continents of North and South America, Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia. Our largest financial support base is the United States followed by the Netherlands, Australia, France, Great Britain, Germany, Brazil, Canada, Italy, Spain, Hong Kong andSouth Africa. We have dozens of celebrity supporters like Pierce Brosnan, Sean Penn, Pamela Anderson, Richard Dean Anderson, Martin Sheen, Jacques Perrin etc. The former Australian Minister of the Environment and the former leader of the Australian Green Party are directors in Australia. The former British Columbian Minister of the Environment is a Director in Canada. Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers is a director in the United States. But our real base of support is the tens of thousands of people ranging from children to senior citizens who support us with small donations.

How do you evaluate the results of your actions today ?

We look at the number of animals saved and the losses we have caused for the poachers. Our campaigns to the Southern Ocean have saved over 4000 whales. We have reduced poaching in the Galapagos with our on-going partnership with the police and the rangers there. We helped to end the large commercial seal slaughter in Eastern Canadian waters. We are increasing awareness with our television show Whale Wars. I think people like to support Sea Shepherd because we give them tangible results for their investment in us. We don’t talk about saving whales, sharks, dolphins, fish, and marine habitats and species. We actually do it. And we do it without using violence and within the boundaries of the law.

Our campaigns to the Southern Ocean have saved over 4000 whales (Paul Watson). Photo Sea Shepherd

You are very popular in the WASP countries. Is your action understood and welcomed in Europe and in France in particular ?

Sea Shepherd is established in Europe, North and South American, Asia and Africa. We have a large support base in France and this has a great deal to do with our leadership in France. Lamya Essemlali who began as a volunteer on our ships and is now President of SeaShepherd France is the primary reason for our success in France. She has the educational qualifications to lead us combined with her experience in the field and a deep and fiery passion for defending our oceans. We have an excellent team in France and France itself has a history of concern and activism for the oceans from Jules Verne to Jacques Cousteau and Albert Falco to Jacques Perrin and Brigitte Bardot.

Today you are being persued by Justice. Yesterday you were sacred « Ecologist hero » by the Time Magazine. What do you think about that ?

I do not see myself being pursued by justice. What I see is the law being abused and manipulated politically by Japan. But great things are never accomplished easily. History will judge me, children as yet unborn will judge us all. Did we defend their heritage or did we steal nature’s treasures from them? It matters not what governments think of us. Politicians have their own priorities and usually these do not include protecting the oceans or biodiversity. To be a conservation activist, one must be prepared to say things some people do not wish to hear, to do things many people do not like to see being done, and to provoke controversies many people would rather remain ignorant of. An activist is like an acupuncture needle poking about for a reaction in an attempt to cure a problem. To do this we need to rock the boat, we need to get people’s attention. We need to harness imagination and passion with courage and practicality. In truth I don’t really care what people think of me. I represent my clients and their interests and my clients are whales, sharks, dolphins, seals, turtles, birds and fish – not people.

France is mobilizing to captain Watson

Photo © Sea Shepherd

Actions against Paul Watson as well as his arrest and incarceration in Germany have generated many reactions around the world.

In France, a support committee was set up, led by figures such as Nicolas Hulot, Jacques Perrin, Stéphane Hessel, Edgar Morin, Yann Arthus Bertrand, José Bové, Daniel Cohn Bendit, Brigitte Bardot or Chantal Jouanno, asking for welcome him as the first environmentalist political refugee.

France, said Nicolas Hulot, would be honored to welcome Captain Watson. He is a hero and a symbol that deserves the Nobel peace. Jacques Perrin, known worldwide for his film Oceans said for his part that Paul Watson was now only to enforce the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary.

Meanwhile, a citizen petition has already collected more than 60 000 signatures. See on