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.
Captain Paul Watson by Sea Shepherd
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 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 German's 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 Sea Shepherd.org.
Martin Sheen by Sea Shepherd