Guest Post: SSCS Crew Member Deborah Bassett – Global Support For Captain Watson

Since Sunday May 12, 2012, Captain Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, has been under arrest in Frankfurt, Germany, facing extradition to Costa Rica for an incident that occurred over a decade ago when he apprehended an illegal shark finning operation off the coast of Guatemala. While Captain Watson was “released” Monday from Frankfurt prison on a 250,000 Euro bail, he remains under house arrest during which time the German courts will consider whatever documentation Costa Rica is able to produce in what appears to be a case motivated by political agenda.

On Wednesday, May 23, a day of action to Free Paul Watson is set to take place at German embassies and consulates around the world calling on Germany to STOP extradition to Costa Rica. On this day, the President of Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla, will be visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

Despite recent headlines, make no mistake, Captain Watson needs our continued support NOW more than ever. During a Skype chat on Monday, he wrote, “I don’t know how many days of freedom I may have, so I will need to take full advantage of them.”

The arrest is based on allegations of violating “ships’ traffic” in Guatemalan waters after a clash in 2002 between fishermen on the ship Varadero who were illegally poaching sharks and the Sea Shepherd’s ship, Ocean Warrior, which would later be renamed the Farley Mowat. After apprehending the Varadero in Guatemalan waters on what Sea Shepherd said were orders from Guatemalan authorities, the fishermen accused Captain Watson of attempted murder. He was prosecuted upon return to Costa Rica and the initial charges were dismissed. A second arrest warrant was later filed but lapsed before it was mysteriously reactivated last October, well over a decade after the high seas confrontation, and after Interpol released a statement in which it said it refused in March to publish a Red Notice seeking Captain Watson’s arrest because its Office of Legal Affairs was not satisfied the request complied with Interpol’s constitution and rules.

The incident in question was thoroughly documented in the award-winning film Sharkwater, released in 2007, which brought worldwide media attention to the hideous reality of the corrupt and brutal shark finning industry. Toronto-based film director Rob Stewart says his film disproves the accusations made against Captain Watson and he has released a released clip of the incident to prove Captain Watson’s innocence which may be viewed here. According to Stewart in a recent press release statement:

“The fishermen were not injured and their boat was not damaged. There was no attempt to harm any human life.

Varadero shark finning vessel

The charges were originally dropped once the authorities saw my footage. Paul’s arrest does, however, show that the same problems portrayed in Sharkwater may still plague Costa Rica — and now, more than ever, we need Paul Watson free.”

Last Wednesday, the public prosecutor stated that the German Ministry of Justice and the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs have the power to stop the extradition procedures based on political grounds — a statement which directly positions the case as an international human rights matter. In the event that Captain Watson is extradited to Costa Rica, it is inevitable that he would not receive a fair trial, nor would his safety be guaranteed. Between the illegal activities of the Japanese whaling industry and the notorious shark finning mafia in Costa Rica, Captain Watson has made several formidable enemies throughout his 40 years on the front lines who seek to stop his highly successful efforts to uphold global conservation laws and defend marine life. The shark finning mafia, which operates illegally in Costa Rica, could easily try to harm him and extradition to Costa Rica could result in what Captain Watson described in his own words as “a certain death sentence.” According to Sea Shepherd:

“The Taiwanese Shark Fin Mafia has had a $20,000 bounty on his head for years. We know the arm of the Taiwanese Shark Finning Mafia reaches not just to the illegal fishing industry in Costa Rica, but also to the prison system there. Sea Shepherd fears that, not only would Captain Paul Watson not receive a fair trial in Costa Rica, but he would likely not survive jail long enough to see the inside of a courtroom.”

For a country that prides itself on “eco-tourism and sustainability,” seeking extradition of such an iconic figure in the environmental conservation movement would present a PR nightmare of epic proportions and would certainly not be taken lightly by the millions of Sea Shepherd supporters around the world. The amount of phone calls and faxes received on Captain Watson’s behalf this week to the German Ministry of Justice reportedly crashed their communications system, evidencing the volume of support that Captain Watson merits from his global network of supporters.

The Costa Rican government should also bear in mind that a well-orchestrated and sustained international boycott on the Costa Rican tourism industry could prove more detrimental economically than the amount of money and goods being offered by the illegal and rogue industry culprits who appear to be lining the pockets of a select number of corrupt officials.

Captain Paul Watson with Kelly Slater

While Watson’s high-profile image and impeccable track record at bringing down ocean plundering crooks and eco-rapists has indeed made him some dangerous enemies along the way, it has also gained him the support of numerous influential individuals including such Hollywood elite and industry moguls as Martin Sheen, Daryl Hannah, Pierce Brosnan, Bob Barker, Sean Penn, Kelly Slater, Anthony Kiedis, Sean Connery, Richard Dean Andersen, Alicia Silverstone, Rory Freedman, Alyssa Milano, Isabel Lucas, Perrey Reeves, Sam Simon, Farley Mowat, John Paul Dejoria, Rutger Hauer, Doug Tompkins, and Michelle Rodriguez, to name just a few. And let us certainly not forget such spiritual and political leaders as His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Prince Albert of Monaco, Queen Nora of Jordan, and Australia’s Former Environmental Minister, Ian Campbell, among several others.

These types of esteemed allies certainly ensure more than ample amount of worldwide media coverage across a multitude of platforms. In fact, long-time Sea Shepherd advocate and personal comrade to Captain Paul Watson, Brigitte Bardot, made international headlines last week when she nobly stepped up to the plate to voice her “outrage” and offer to serve the prison time in place of the good captain to whom she referred to her as her “accomplice” and “brother in arms.” On Thursday, the Red Hot Chili Peppers placed a message on their website calling for German authorities to stop extradition to Costa Rica while Alicia Silverstone and several other celebrities tweeted about the Captain’s release.

Veteran Sea Shepherds Peter Hammerstedt and Scott West have been in Germany for a press conference and court proceedings and were able to record the following personal statement from Captain Watson earlier last week:

“In our efforts to defend the lives of whales, dolphins, seals, sharks, and fish, we have made some powerful enemies, most notably the government of Japan. It is no coincidence that the extradition request by Costa Rica was issued the same month (October 2011) as the Japanese whaling (ICR) lawsuit against Sea Shepherd was initiated. The extradition request was in reference to a complaint from Costa Rican fishermen who I caught poaching in Guatemalan waters. The fishermen were not injured and their boat was not damaged. The incident was fully documented for the film Sharkwater. Interpol originally denied this extradition order and deemed it as politically motivated. Therefore, the question must be asked why Germany is now taking into account accusations made by illegal poachers.”

Having traveled extensively throughout Costa Rica, a country based in pacifist tradition whose national identity is prided upon both human and natural rights protection, I am confident that the tolerant citizens of Costa Rica will not support the incarceration of Paul Watson on their soil. I would also hope and urge that Germany, being a progressive leader with a high level of compliance in the international human rights arena and longstanding member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, will rule for the immediate release of Captain Watson based on the imminent threat to his life should he be extradited.

Paul Watson has given the majority of his life for the protections of those who do not have a voice. Now it is our turn to be a voice for him. Please join us on May 23 and by contacting the two people who have the power to release Captain Paul Watson and end this transparent mockery of the international justice system:

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger
Federal Minister of Justice
Deutscher Bundestag
Platz der Republik
11011 Berlin
Telephone 030 – 227 751 62
Fax 030 – 227 764 02

Federal Ministry of Justice
Mohrenstrasse 37
10117 Berlin, Germany
Telephone: +49 (030) 18 580-0
Telefax: +49 (030) 18 580-9525
Dr. Guido Westerwelle

Minister of Foreign Affairs
Platz der Republik 1
11011 Berlin
Tel.: 030 / 22771636
Fax: 030 / 22776562