Guest Blog by Deborah Bassett
Since Sunday May 12, Captain Paul Watson, founder of The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, has been under arrest in Frankfurt, Germany and 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 bail on Monday, he remains under house arrest in Germany during which time the courts consider whatever documentation Costa Rica is able to produce in what appears to be a case motivated by political agenda.
On Wednesday May 23rd, a day of action to Free Paul Waston 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 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.”
Captain Watson’s 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. After apprehending the Varadero in Guatemalan waters on what Sea Shepherd said were orders from Guatemalan authorities, the fisherman accused Captain Watson of attempted murder. Watson 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; even 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.
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; but is has also gained him the support of numerous influential individuals including: Martin Sheen, Daryl Hannah, Pierce Brosnan, Bob Barker, Sean Penn, Kelly Slater, Anthony Kiedis, Sean Connery, Richard Dean Andersen, Alicia Silverstone, Alyssa Milano, Isabel Lucas, Perrey Reeves, John Paul Dejoria, Rutger Hauer, Rory Freeman 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, and Queen Nora of Jordan amongst 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 Brigitte Bardot made international headlines earlier last week when she nobly stepped up to the plate to voice “outrage” and offer to serve the prison time in place of her longtime comrade – to whom she referred as her “accomplice” and “brother in arms”. Long time supporters for the cause, The Red Hot Chili Peppers also posted a call to action on their website late last week urging German authorities to stop the extradition to Costa Rica; while Alicia Silverstone posted a blog regarding Captain Watson’s arrest on her personal website, The Kind Life.
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 Captain Watson 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 reachs 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 court room.”
11 time World Surfing Champion and Sea Shepherd Advisory Board Member Kelly Slater also chimed in with his support of Captain Watson and his concerns via email:
“This situation cannot thrive if there is transparency. For example, connections and investments by the Chinese and Taiwanese with Costa Rican for infrastructure investments in Costa Rica, result in Costa Rica turning a blind eye to the shark finning industry and illegal fishing off the coast, all the while Costa Rica promotes ecotourism based upon the country’s biodiversity and natural beauty. If a light is shined on these connections, their ability to pull secret levers of power will evaporate.”
The incident in question was thoroughly documented in the award winning film Sharkwater, released in 2007, which brought world wide media attention to the hideous reality of the corrupt and brutal shark finning industry. A recent clip of the incident was issued by Film Maker Rob Stewart in order to prove Captain Watson’s innocence and can be viewed below:
“The situation that we find Captain Watson in, now shines a light on these dark corners. It is literally now a simple choice by government, to overturn and release Captain Watson given that the entire incident where he confronted the illegal poachers was caught on tape. The video establishes the facts, and this calls into question the motives of those continuing to pursue Captain Watson despite those facts. No person or vessel was injured during the melee and Watson was following instructions from Guatemalan government officials while protecting natural resources under the UN protocol. He’s already paid a fine and been released, but someone still has a bone to pick with him somewhere else in the world, and they are wrongly being helped behind closed doors by some murky government power.”
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 last week on Captain Watson’s behalf to the German Ministry of Justice reportedly crashed the entire system, evidencing the volume of support that Captain Watson merits from his global network of supporters. Furthermore, a well orchestrated and sustained international boycott on the Costa Rican tourism industry could prove far more detrimental economically than the the amount of money and goods being offered by the illegal or rogue industry culprits who appear to be lining the pockets of a select number of seemingly corrupt officials.
According to Captain Watson in a statement recorded from his prison cell last week to Sea Shepherd representatives:
“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 UN Human Rights Council, will rule for the immediate release of Captain Watson based on the eminent threat to his life should he be extradited.
Paul Watson has given the majority of his life for the protection of those who do not have a voice. now it is our turn to be a voice for him. Please join us on Wednesday, May 23rd and contact the two people who have the power to release Captain Paul Watson by respectfully notifying the following individuals:
Federal Minister of Justice
Platz der Republik
Telephone 030 – 227 751 62
Fax 030 – 227 764 02
Federal Ministry of Justice
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
Tel.: 030 / 22771636
Fax: 030 / 22776562
Every year tens of millions of sharks die a slow death because of finning. Finning is the inhumane practice of hacking off the shark’s fins and throwing its still living body back into the sea. The sharks either starve to death, are eaten alive by other fish, or drown (if they are not in constant movement their gills cannot extract oxygen from the water). Shark fins are being “harvested” in ever greater numbers to feed the growing demand for shark fin soup, an Asian “delicacy”.