For the past five years, the Sea Shepherd has sailed at least one vessel to the Southern Ocean to prevent the Japanese from killing whales for its "research" whaling operation. During the 2009-2010 whaling season, Sea Shepherd took three ships to Antarctic waters, the smallest of which was rammed and sunk by a Japanese whaling vessel.
The warrant "is nothing to be worried about," Watson told ENS today from New York, where he is publicizing the Sea Shepherd's campaign to protect Atlantic bluefin tuna. "Japan doesn't have any authority to get Interpol involved. Our legal counsel in Japan said that even if a judge puts out a warrant, it won't be recognized by Interpol because it's politically motivated."
"The Japan Coast Guard has no legal authority to issue warrants and they are not enforceable even in Japan," Watson said, adding, "Our legal team says it's just a publicity stunt to demonize me, make me look like I'm a wanted man."
A spokesman for the Japan Coast Guard spokesman told reporters Friday that no comments are issued on arrest warrants.
Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson stands with the M/V Steve Irwin in Brisbane, Australia. December 2008. (Photo by Eric Cheng courtesy Sea Shepherd)
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is headquartered in the United States, at Friday Harbor, Washington. Watson holds dual citizenship in the United States and Canada.
"It does seem amazing that it has taken five years for the Japanese Coast Guard to discover that Sea Shepherd volunteers have obstructed illegal Japanese whaling operations," Watson said Friday. "We've only been obstructing whaling operations since December 2005 and every year we have been more successful than the year before.
"This last season we saved the lives of more whales than the Japanese whalers slaughtered and we cost them tens of millions of dollars," said Watson.
The Japanese whaling fleet set out for the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in late 2009 with a permit issued by the Japanese government to kill 935 minke whales, 50 endangered fin whales and 50 endangered humpback whales. When the season ended in March, the had taken 506 minke whales, one fin whale and no humpbacks.
Watson is already planning to return to the Southern Ocean to obstruct the Japanese whalers next season in a campaign he is calling "Operation No Compromise."
He says he is not concerned that the Japan Coast Guard could execute their arrest warrant on the high seas.
"The Japanese Coast Guard could send a vessel and try to arrest me then," he said. "They could try. They send security boats every year, but there's no way they could board us. We have six foot spikes surrounding the whole ship, we have LRADs, lasers, pepper spray."
Watson says the Japanese government is "desperate" to keep Sea Shepherd ships from returning to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary for the 2010-2011 season.
"There is no doubt that the motives of the Japanese Coast Guard and the Japanese government are political," he said.
The Sea Shepherd vessel Ady Gil sheared in two by the Shonan Maru No. 2, in the background. January 6, 2010. The Ady Gil sank soon after this photo was taken. (Photo by JoAnne McArthur courtesy Sea Shepherd)
In January, in an attack captured on film, the Japanese whaling ship Shonan Maru No. 2 rammed and sank the Sea Shepherd's new high-speed trimaran, the Ady Gil in the Southern Ocean.
Six crewmembers, four from New Zealand, one from Australia, and one from the Netherlands, were immediately rescued by the crew of the Sea Shepherd ship the Bob Barker. None of the Ady Gil crew were seriously injured.
But Watson is outraged that none of the authorities in Japan, New Zealand or Australia have questioned the captain of the Shonan Maru 2 for "deliberately ramming and destroying a three million dollar Sea Shepherd vessel and almost killing six Sea Shepherd volunteer crewmembers."
"There is no case in recent maritime history where a ship has collided with another vessel on the high seas and the captain of the ship responsible has not even been questioned," Watson has said repeatedly and said again on Friday.
Captain Peter Bethune, a New Zealand citizen, was in command of the Ady Gil, a New Zealand registered vessel, inside the waters of the Australian Antarctic Territory when the Shonan Maru No. 2 struck and sank the smaller ship on January 6.
In February in the Southern Ocean, Bethune boarded the Shonan Maru No. 2 to confront the captain over the sinking of his ship. He was taken into custody, taken to Japan and there charged with five crimes, including causing injury and trespassing.
The Australian Greens say the Japanese warrant for Watson's arrest points up how little is being done by the government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to combat whaling in the Southern Ocean.
The Sea Shepherd vessels Steve Irwin and Bob Barker at the wharf in Hobart, Tasmania (Photo by Anne Holmes)
Australian Greens Leader Senator Bob Brown said that the arrest process for Watson was "being facilitated by the Rudd Government and the Australian Federal Police raid that was conducted on Sea Shepherd ships in Hobart last month."
In March, Australian Federal Police officers with search warrants boarded the Steve Irwin and the Bob Barker in Hobart, Tasmania, as the result of a "formal referral from Japanese authorities," a spokesman said on condition of anonymity. He did not say on what basis the warrants were issued.
Jeff Hansen, Australian director of Sea Shepherd, said police confiscated logbooks, video footage, charts and laptops and had interviewed some of the crew.
A year earlier, in February 2009, Australian Federal Police officers searched the Steve Irwin when it docked in Hobart after confronting the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean. They then confiscated video and audio recordings, photos, the ship's log books, global positioning system records, charts and other documents.
Then too police refused to give details about the search, saying only that it was done at the request of "Japanese authorities."
Meanwhile, Senator Brown's request for information on that police process in Australia has been frustrated.
"The warrant should not be for Paul Watson, but for the Captain of the Shonan Maru 2 who ran down Captain Pete Bethune's ship, the Ady Gil, nearly killing six crew members," said Senator Brown. "Prime Minister Kevin Rudd should explain whether he intends to pursue action against the Japanese whaling fleet over that incident."
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