Ocean Activism

We Will Not Back Down

Commentary by Captain Paul Watson

Captain Paul Watson, founder and president, Sea Shepherd Conservation SocietyThe one thing that I have been most proud of in my long career is the fact that after 35 years of interventions to defend marine life we have not caused a single injury to any person nor after some 350 voyages have I had any of my crew seriously injured. I am also proud of the fact that although we have been aggressively intervening against illegal whalers, sealers, dolphin killers, drift netters, trawlers, turtle killers and other ocean life-destroying enterprises, we have always done so within the boundaries of the law.

We have launched and carried out eight campaigns to oppose the Japanese whalers arrogantly operating in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. We have not caused a single injury to any of them nor have we caused any damage to their ships. The whalers on the other hand have shot at us, rammed our ships and completely destroyed one of them without any legal consequences whatsoever. What we have done is to cripple them financially by blocking their ability to kill whales and the achievement that I am most proud of is that due to our interventions some 4,000 whales would now be dead if not for the courageous efforts of my incredible crews.

Our objective from the beginning of the campaign was to sink the Japanese whaling fleet economically. We have achieved that. We have bankrupted them and driven them into debt; and the whaling fleet, weaker now than ever, only survives due to massive subsidies from the Japanese government.

I have never been under any delusion that taking on one of the world’s great economic superpowers would not have consequences for us, especially since we have so humiliated the whalers at sea, outmaneuvering them and chasing them out of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary with their kill quotas denied and their profits wiped out.

And of course the two events that could not be anticipated in our overall strategy have caused us the most problems.

The first is the Japanese tsunami.

Of the hundreds of millions of dollars contributed from around the world to the victims of that disaster, an allocation of some $30 million dollars was given to the whalers to fight Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. That is certainly not what the people who sent donations ever imagined that their contributions would be spent on. Rebuilding houses, food, medicine, repairing the infrastructure yes, but to subsidize the operations of the whalers to continue killing whales in a sanctuary – who could have foreseen such a betrayal of trust?

With that money the whalers have hired public relations firms, increased security, and initiated lawsuits. However, the increased security on their fleet failed to prevent Sea Shepherd from once again intervening and as a result the whalers took only some 26% of their intended kill and once again lost all possible profits, sinking even deeper into debt.

The filing for an injunction against Sea Shepherd in the United States courts also failed when the U.S. Judge denied their request for a preliminary injunction and although they are appealing the decision, their chances for success are slim.

They are forcing Sea Shepherd to expend funds on legal fees but such expenses are all part of the overall battle plan and our success at sea is bringing in more and more support, allowing us to continue our fight against their poaching activities both on the water and now in the court.

The tsunami funds have also been used to find strategies to defeat us and one of them was to track down a decade-old incident off Guatemala where we had intervened against an illegal Costa Rican shark-finning operation with permission of the Guatemalan government. The charges had been dismissed back then after the Costa Rican court reviewed our documentation, and the incident has been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people in the award-winning documentary film, Sharkwater. But with a little persuasion from Japan, Costa Rica decided to resurrect the incident with a charge that we had sprayed water onto the shark-finning boat causing them to lose control and to collide with my ship. Even so there were no injuries and their vessel was not damaged. Hardly an extraditable offense.

When first filed with Interpol by Costa Rica, the request was denied. But when I landed in Germany on May 13th, the Germans decided to act on the request despite the dismissal and detained me. My suspicions right from the beginning were that this was a Japanese initiative and once Japan saw that Germany was willing to act on a bilateral basis with Costa Rica they approached Germany with their request for extradition.

When a reliable source within the German Ministry of Justice tipped me off that the Germans would arrest me the next morning when I reported to the Frankfurt police I knew that once sent to Japan, I would not be leaving for a very long time. Thus I made the decision to depart Germany.

I was also sent a copy of the Japanese request by this German source, and the entire case by Japan is based upon accusations against me by Peter Bethune.

This was the second unforeseen incident.

During Operation Waltzing Matilda (2009-2010), the Ady Gil, skippered by Pete Bethune, was deliberately rammed and sliced in half by the Shonan Maru No. 2. Pete Bethune decided to board the Shonan Maru No. 2 to confront the Japanese captain. In one of the episodes of Whale Wars, I advise Bethune not to board the vessel. His reply was that it was what he needed to do, it was his ship and he had the right to demand that the Japanese captain answer for the destruction of the boat. Bethune said he would take complete responsibility for his actions and thus he boarded the vessel with his own Jet Ski and assisted by his own crewmember.

Bethune was taken to Japan and instead of taking full responsibility for the decision he made, he accused me of ordering him to board the Shonan Maru No. 2. This was a deal he made with the prosecutor in return for a suspended sentence.  Our legal team has documented evidence of this deal.

My critics can say what they like but I think that any objective review of the facts within the context of our history will show that these demands for my extradition are politically motivated and not based on a proper legal investigation. Everything that happened during the Costa Rican incident was documented by independent filmmaker Rob Stewart for the making of the film, Sharkwater. Everything that has occurred with reference to Japanese whaling operations in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary was documented for the Animal Planet program Whale Wars and in the film, At the Edge of the World. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society operates overtly and above board. Everything we do is documented.

For those critics who say that I should therefore submit myself to Costa Rica or Japan if I have nothing to hide I can only say that would be an option if allowed the opportunity for a fair and impartial trial. I do not believe that either country would give me a fair and impartial trial and even if acquitted by a Costa Rican court, they would then turn me over to Japan. Japan is not seeking justice, they are seeking revenge.

What we have here is a Japanese captain having completely destroyed a 1.5 million dollar vessel, injuring a cameraman and almost killing six crewmembers. The crew was recruited by Pete Bethune to help man his vessel, the Ady Gil, and were not Sea Shepherd crewmembers, but Sea Shepherd still worked with them to try to stop the Japanese whalers and Sea Shepherd rescued them when their ship was rammed and destroyed.  Note that Pete Bethune was not a Sea Shepherd Captain either. In fact, I have no doubt that had a Sea Shepherd Captain been in command of the Ady Gil that day, the collision would have been prevented altogether.  But that was not the case and the collision occurred, yet the Captain of the Shonan Maru No. 2 has not even been subjected to questioning over this incident. This in contrast to charges against me that do not even involve activities by myself based solely on the accusations of a man who made a deal with the Japanese in return for a suspended sentence.

With regard to Costa Rica, the courts have seen the evidence and questioned me and the witnesses and gave me a clearance to depart Costa Rica in 2002 and then revived the charges a decade later at the same time that a meeting took place between President Chinchilla of Costa Rica and the Prime Minister of Japan.

Click here to view the 2002 Ship’s Log Citing Clearance for Departure from Costa Rica (PDF)

Other incidents by Japan have also not been investigated including the ramming of the Bob Barker by one of the harpoon vessels, and the collisions with the harpoon vessels and the Steve Irwin when the whalers attempted to force the Sea Shepherd vessel away from blocking the stern slipway of the Nisshin Maru.

For myself, I have to weigh the best course of action within the context of our overall strategy to defend and protect the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. If I surrender myself to Japan and/or Costa Rica I will not be in a direct command position to intervene against the Japanese whale poachers in Antarctic waters. I can coordinate the campaign from a land base or from onboard ship but it will not be possible to do so as a prisoner of the Japanese. Operation Zero Tolerance must be my primary concern and it is towards launching that campaign that I have decided to dedicate myself. If detained prior to the launch, the campaign will proceed under the directions given through the campaign chain of command. After the campaign if the legal issues remain outstanding I will address them directly at a time of my choosing with guidance from our legal team.

Another bit of misinformation is that I am fugitive from justice. I am not, and it is not a crime for anyone to work with or assist me. It is a complicated case, but I am not wanted outside of Japan, Costa Rica and Germany. There is no arrest warrant for me outside of these three countries and with regard to Germany, I have not broken any German law. Skipping bail is not a crime in Germany independent of the charge that was the cause of my being detained.

Presently I am in a place where I cannot be touched by the Interpol “red” notice and our legal team is working on exposing the local warrants from Costa Rica and Japan as being politically motivated with the objective of having Interpol disregard them. I believe that any impartial review of the evidence will exonerate me and it is best to have this evidence reviewed with impartiality rather than to throw myself at the mercy of courts where the verdict has already been determined.

From the beginning of this campaign to oppose the Japanese whale poachers in the Southern Ocean I was well aware that there were extreme risks involved. In addition to operating in the most hostile marine environment on the planet we were also aware that we were engaging one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nations.

Despite this, every year we have gotten stronger and the whaling fleet has become weaker. And most importantly our efforts to defend the whales, to save their lives has increased dramatically to the point where the Japanese have failed for two years in a row to kill more than 70% of their no longer defenseless victims.

And thus we come down to the showdown and the reason we call this Operation Zero Tolerance. Our goal this year is to achieve zero kills and we will do all within our power to make that goal a reality. It is expected that the Japanese will do whatever they can to stop us and one of their tactics is to eliminate me as the leader of this campaign. They may or may not do so but either way they cannot stop the passion of my officers and crew who will stand with me or who will stand if need be, without me. But stand they will and our ships will once more engage these ruthless killers on the high seas to shield the gentle giants from their merciless harpoons.

If I am captured and politically crucified before this campaign all I can say is that this has always been for me a possibility and the Japanese will find that I am not as meek and unprepared as their previous prisoner. The loss of my personal freedom or even my life will be a fair price for achieving the objective of realizing the security of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. And with or without me that goal will be realized because we have something the Japanese whalers will never have. That is an absolute passionate respect for life and for maintaining the integrity of the Sanctuary. They are motivated by greed. We are motivated by love, and love and respect for life will always triumph over greed and death.

To all of our supporters worldwide – thank you. Your support gives us the means to go forth, where we need to go to fight this battle. Thank you also to our crew of Cove Guardians who have begun their six months in Taiji, Japan to defend the dolphins. Thank you to our crew in Africa defending the seals, to our crew in the Galapagos defending those enchanted isles, to our crew in the Mediterranean defending the endangered Bluefin tuna, our crews in the South Pacific defending sharks and coral reefs and to all those Sea Shepherd warriors initiating fundraising, public awareness and activist campaigns for oceanic species worldwide.

I am honored to work with each and every one of you. Together we are a force that has demonstrated and will continue to demonstrate that we can make a difference, and that no matter what the obstacles or how impossible the mission, we will not back down. Martin Sheen once told me that when someone accused him of supporting a lost cause that “lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for.” Martin, myself, and all of our crew are united in this belief that the impossible can become possible. And it is the passion, courage, imagination and resourcefulness of my incredible crew that will win this fight for the whales and for the oceans.

I’m proud of them all and most honored to have served this cause to protect our oceans, for the one most basic of truths is this:  If the oceans die, we die! It is as simple as that and, thus, to me, there is no cause more important.

One Reply to “Ocean Activism”

  1. Following the tragic Tsunami which struck Japan with lethal effect creating a nuclear incident which continues unabated individuals, governments, financial institutions and non governmental organizations, NGO, responded with generosity by donating extensive financial assistance to Japan. The intent of the donations could not be clearer. The intent was to assist those Japanese casualties, who suffered the loss of life of family members, physical injury and property loss. Never in the appeals made nor in the provisions made was there an intent to fund re-estblishment of the Japanese Whaling Industry. The Japanese whaling industry had collapsed due to debt. The industry failed because there was insufficient market for its product. This collapse had been known for some time. Had the people of Japan wanted to pass legislation to
    re-establish the failed industry they could have done that. There was no such legislation passed.

    It is ironic that the Japanese Government appears to have endorsed the conversion of funds, from the intended purpose, to assist the victims of the Tsunami into a gift to individuals and corporations engaged in Whaling. Whaling in and of itself is an illegal act under International Maritime law, National Maritime law and various treaties.

    This misappropriation of funds, $30,000,000 (US) is more than lamentable it is a betrayal of trust. Not only did the Japanese government engage in this misappropriation it did so knowing that the purpose was to violate international law. Specifically to hunt whales illegally, poach, in the internationally established Southern Whale Sanctuary. Furthermore the Japanese govenrnement endorsed and funded the persecution of those who risk their lives to protect the whales within the Southern Whale Sanctuary. Additionally the Japanese government has sought to engage other governments, Costa Rica, Germany and perhaps others in such persecution without disclosing that the funds to pursue actions in Costa Rica and Germany had been misappropriated from charitable gifts to those who suffered from the Tsunami.

    Japan has failed thus far to mitigate the Worldwide threat its failed nuclear reactors represent to life on the planet. To ignore that duty while investing in ships to violate an international wildlife sanctuary is beyond reprehensible it may be a violation of the UN agreement on International maritime law, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982,

    Japanese whaling vessels have deliberately attacked ships and personnel attempting to protect the sanctuary previously. In one case Japanese whaling vessels attacked one of the ships engaged in sanctuary protection, cutting the vessel in half. This action was deliberate and conducted with blatant disregard for lives and safety of the crew on board. Such activity meets the international law definition of Piracy, see statute below.

    I would suggest that the Government’s of Japan, Costa Rica and Germany reconsider their actions. Furthermore I would suggest that any other government and/or Corporations and/or Individuals cease all operations to take protected marine animals in particular whales.


    Definition of piracy

    Piracy consists of any of the following acts:

    (a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:

    (i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;

    (ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;

    (b) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;

    (c) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).

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