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A Returning Eco-Exile by Captain Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
It is a fascinating experience being an exile and an international fugitive.
I have been at sea for fifteen months since departing from Germany in early August 2012.
On that day when I refused to be extradited by Germany to Japan, I drove to the Netherlands and there I boarded a sailing boat. It took me four months to reach Samoa where I boarded my flagship the Steve Irwin to continue down to the waters around Antarctica.
The next three months were spent in the Southern and Indian Oceans in pursuit of the Japanese whaling fleet where the Sea Shepherd fleet of four vessels succeeded in restricting the whale kill to 9% of their intended quota saving close to 900 whales.
It was a very successful campaign but success has its consequences.
The Sea Shepherd fleet returned to Australia in mid-March but I could not go ashore because of two Interpol Red notices. One from Costa Rica for stopping a Costa Rican shark poacher in Guatemalan waters in 2002 and the other from Japan for conspiracy to trespass and interference with business.
I left the Steve Irwin off Tasmania and for the last eight months I have been on the water continuously except for occasional landings on remote uninhabited islands in the South Pacific.
During that time I collected lots of plastic debris from remote beaches, watched Green Turtles and numerous species of sea-birds laying their eggs and I ate quite a few coconuts. I was also working with my legal team to resolve the issues that forced me into exile.
The Costa Rican warrant is blatantly political and finally even Interpol saw through it. It has been dropped from the Interpol Red List. The charges for interfering with a Costa Rican shark poaching vessel stem from 2002 but the warrant for my arrest was issued in 2012 only a few weeks after a meeting between Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla and the Prime Minister of Japan. Also, during the last year my allegations against Chinchilla’s government have been given credibility with the head of COPESCA the Costa Rican fishery agency now under investigation for bribery from shark poachers and drug traffickers.
No one gets extradited for trespassing and especially when it was someone else doing the trespassing.
In 2011, Pete Bethune’s boat the Ady Gil was rammed and destroyed by a Japanese security vessel in the Southern Ocean. Bethune responded by boarding the Japanese vessel to demand that the Japanese captain return to New Zealand to answer for the destruction of his boat. Instead the Japanese arrested Bethune and charged him with trespassing.
Before Bethune boarded the Shonan Maru #2, I advised him not to do so and I can be seen on camera doing so.
Bethune was taken back to Japan and put on trial where he made a deal. In return for a suspended sentence Bethune stated that I had ordered him to board the whaling ship. This was the basis for the charges filed against me with Interpol.
In June of 2013, Bethune agreed to sign an affidavit stating that he lied about being ordered by me to board the Japanese vessel. He stated that he did so as part of a plea with Japan to reduce his sentence.
I did not have that affidavit when I was in Germany but now that I do I am confident that I have a strong case to demonstrate that the Japanese request for extradition is political.
My exile bought me time to prepare a solid defense. If I had stayed in Germany I would have been sent to Japan without a hearing and once in Japan, my chances of a fair trial would be non-existent.
During the last week of October I returned to land when I arrived on the Brigitte Bardot in San Pedro, California. I arrived on the same day as the civil charges of contempt proceedings began in Seattle. Japan had filed for an injunction in the U.S. Courts to stop our interventions. The request was denied by Judge Richard Jones and Sea Shepherd prepared for Operation Zero Tolerance.
We thought it was amusing that Japan would ask a U.S. court to stop Dutch ships from leaving Australian ports to intervene against a Japanese whaling operation in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary that was continuing in contempt of the Australian Federal Court. That was the way Judge Jones saw it, also.
But to our surprise on December 18th after the Steve Irwin had left for the Southern Ocean, the 9th Circuit Court overturned Judge Jones without explanation and granted the injunction. This caused Sea Shepherd USA to withdraw and I had to withdraw personally. Operation Zero Tolerance continued under the leadership of Sea Shepherd Australia.
Despite that, the whalers claimed that the injunction was violated and now the directors of Sea Shepherd USA and me are on trial for contempt. One of the Circuit Court judges even went so far as to declare marine protests as piracy and this is a decision presently being used against Greenpeace activists by the Russians in response to a recent Greenpeace protest against Russian oil drilling in the Arctic.
The outcome of the trial will have no bearing on the ability of the Sea Shepherd ships to return to the Southern Ocean. They are fueled, crewed and ready for departure from Australia in December.
Operation Relentless will be the 10th campaign to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary to defend the whales and it will mark the 7th season of the Animal Planet show Whale Wars that documents the annual encounters.
When people say that we should not be surprised that we are being persecuted for defending the whales, I can only answer that we are not surprised.
In fact we are delighted. The continued Japanese efforts to shut down Sea Shepherd simply reveal how much of a threat we represent.
In Sea Shepherd we measure our success by the number of and the intensity of our enemies. If we did nothing we would not have a single enemy but numerous enemies are merely a reflection of numerous successes.
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