Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson interview: Waiting on German justice and a note from Martin Sheen
Interview of Captain Paul Watson with Jerry Cope
Veteran environmental activist and defender of the oceans Captain Paul Watson is no stranger to controversy. For three decades Captain Watson has aggressively defended the Oceans and marine life from threats large and small.
The organization he founded, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS), has achieved unprecedented success in saving whales, seals, sharks, tuna, and dolphins from illegal poaching and outright slaughter. In so doing Watson and his team have had so much success disrupting Japanese whaling operations in the Antarctic Ocean that it is no longer a profitable enterprise.
Captain Watson and his volunteer crew have become eco-stars on the Discovery Channel hit series Whale Wars and the new special airing on World Oceans Day Jun 8th, Animal Planet’s Seal Wars.
No one has done more to protect the world’s oceans than Captain Paul Watson; so it is far from surprising that he is being targeted by some government authorities, especially Japan and the black market seafood industry.
According to Peter Hammarstedt, Ship Operations Officer for Sea Shepherds, illegal shark fin poaching is the third largest black market enterprise in the world after drugs and weapons trafficking. Hammarstedt also said that the shark fin mafia has placed a bounty of $25,000 on Paul Watson’s head.
While always working within the letter of the law (the Captain’s quarters on SSCS vessels are full of law books) and maintaining safety as a first priority, Paul insists all volunteers on SSCS vessels be willing to risk their lives if necessary to protect animals although, in Sea Shepherd’s 35-year history, no serious injuries have occurred to Sea Shepherd’s crew or the opposition.
It was something of a surprise on May 14th when German authorities arrested Paul Watson on charges stemming from a confrontation 10 years ago with shark fin poachers in Costa Rica. The charges made by the shark finning crew at the time were dismissed after the prosecutor reviewed a film of the incident. Interpol refused to issue a red flag alert and warrant for Captain Watson after reviewing the case and determining it was politically motivated. It would seem Germany, which does not have an extradition treaty with Costa Rica but arrested Watson nonetheless, has been drawn into the affair for motives which remain unknown.
I spoke to Captain Paul Watson in Frankfurt.
JC: How long do you expect to remain in Germany at this point?
PW: I don’t know; it could be days it could be three months. We have put in a motion to dismiss the charges based on the fact that the warrant was full of inaccuracies, and we still haven’t heard back from them. So if that motion is denied they have 90 days to deliver the case to Germany for Germany to make a decision on whether to extradite or not. If Germany makes the decision to extradite, then the German Minister of Justice can still step in and negate it politically, but you can’t have a political decision until you have a justice decision.
The whole thing doesn’t make any sense because this is something that happened ten years ago, no one was injured, no property was damaged. We intervened on a poaching operation in Guatemalan waters at the request of the Guatemalan government. These fishermen put in a complaint that we endangered their lives but we have it all on film, because of the film Sharkwater, everything was documented. We have a good case if it goes to court because we have witnesses and we have the video, but they are not really interested in that.
JC: It is pretty clear that this is politically motivated, there seems to be a general agreement that the Taiwanese Mafia controls the black market in shark fins and there is a great deal of money involved, do they also work with the Japanese – is there Japanese influence at play here as well?
PW: I think it is a combination of Japan putting pressure on Costa Rica, the Tai, the shark fin mafia, all putting pressure on them. The President of Costa Rica went to Japan and met with the Japanese Prime Minister in December and I found that to be an interesting coincidence.
The other thing is a team of biologists were assaulted by shark finners in Puntarenas, and the cops came and took the side of the poachers. Last year Gordon Ramsey, the celebrity chef, was investigating shark poaching, and the poachers held him at gunpoint, threw gasoline on him and threatened to light him on fire. The Costa Rican government’s response to that was to ask him to leave the country as quickly as he could.
JC: Do you expect the legal process to run a full 90 days and you will have to stay in Germany for that length of time?
PW: Yes. Well, I have to stay in Germany until their decision is made, or our motion to dismiss the warrants is acted on, which should have been Monday (June 4th) – we haven’t heard anything. They haven’t made a decision one way or the other.
JC: Interpol refused to issue a red flag warrant alert on you because they considered all of this to be politically motivated, how does the governement of Costa Rica – I believe you met with some of their government officials there in Germany – how do they justify holding you there and asking for extradition?
PW: Well it’s the Germans that I don’t understand. Every other country dismissed this as being politically motivated, but Germany decided to act on it. They went around Interpol to do it. I met with the Costa Rican Foreign Minister last week; he asked for the meeting so we went to Stuttgart to meet with him and he actually wanted my picture taken with him, for the Costa Rican newspaper, which is strange.
What I am gathering is that both Costa Rica and Germany didn’t realize the level of positive response in my favor so they are starting to get a little concerned. The President of the Brazilian Senate put out a YouTube video condemning them, the French Senate has supported me, the Five Nations of the Iroquois have supported me, celebrities all over the world, even the former Environment Minster for Costa Rica has come out and voiced his support. I don’t think they expected this kind of support.
I think the most important thing is that this gives us an opportunity to focus international attention on this horrific shark finning industry and also its connections to Costa Rica. Hopefully on the positive side we can use it to expose this corruption and this illegal activity in Puntarenas, Costa Rica. If so then it’s worthwhile.
JC: If someone wants to try and effect some change here, what can they do?
PW: Certainly letters to the German Justice Minister and the Costa Rican Foreign Minster, or Justice Minister, would help. People can certainly get in touch with us at SeaShepherd.org
Actor and environmentalist Martin Sheen sent the following note for readers
One of Time magazine’s environmental heroes of the 20th century, my good friend, Captain Paul Watson, is beloved the world over as one of the forefather’s of the marine conservation movement. Simply put, there is absolutely no one who has done more to positively and directly impact the health of our oceans and their ecosystems.
I invite conservation-minded individuals around the globe to join me in urging Germany to deny this politically motivated extradition request from Costa Rica and allow Paul to return to his critical role of protecting sharks, whales, seals, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine animals who, if not for his and Sea Shepherd’s actions, would no doubt be plundered into extinction.
Contact Information for the German Minister of Justice is:
Federal Minister of Justice
Telephone 030 – 227 751 62
[More details below on how to communicate your concerns to Germany.]
Jerry Cope has been involved in working on ecological issues for over ten years. In 2004 he was inspired to rededicate his life to working on environmental issues.
SOS Paul Watson
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
Please call, email and fax…
Contact the following Ministers to urge Captain Watson’s pending extradition be denied and request his release (please be respectful in your communications):
Federal Minister of Justice
Platz der Republik
Tel.: +49 (030) 227 751 62
Fax.: +49 (030) 227 764 02
Dr. Guido Westerwelle
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Platz der Republik 1
Tel.: +49 (030) 22771636
Fax.: +49 (030) 22776562
Dear Ms Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger,
I am very concerned to hear that Germany has detained Sea Shepherd’s Captain Paul Watson for possible extradition to Costa Rica. I understand that the warrant for Captain Watson’s arrest is politically motivated and possibly due to an incident in which Sea Shepherd uncovered an illegal shark-finning operation.
I support Sea Shepherd’s efforts to monitor and publicise illegal fishing and whaling around the world and recognize that some illegal fishing operations try to use international law to shut down Sea Shepherd operations. I urge you to consider the valuable work Captain Watson and Sea Shepherd are undertaking globally to highlight the dangers to our oceans in considering this extradition request.
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