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Sea Shepherd’s Watson tells U.S. court, ‘We’re not pirates’

AP

A fugitive activist known for attacking Japanese whaling vessels off Antarctica insisted “we’re not pirates” Wednesday as he addressed a U.S. appeals court considering whether he and the organization he founded should be held in contempt.

Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, took the witness stand in a Seattle courtroom. Japanese whalers accuse them of violating a court order demanding that they leave the whalers alone.

“We don’t care what people call us,” Watson said, responding to an earlier ruling from the court that called the activists “pirates.”

“We’re not pirates. . . . Protesting against illegal activity is not piracy.”

The white-goateed 62-year-old described his history of environmental activism and accolades, and said he has spent the past year at sea. He fled Germany in 2012 after being arrested at the behest of Costa Rica, and Japan continues to seek his arrest related to his interference with a whaling vessel in 2010.

“Over the last year there’s been a lot of negotiation on different levels that allowed me to come ashore,” he said, in response to a question from his lawyer. Watson did not elaborate, and it remained unclear whether he might still face arrest.

The case is part of a long-running fight between the protesters and Japan’s whaling fleet, which kills up to 1,000 whales a year, as allowed by the International Whaling Commission.

For several years, Sea Shepherd operated anti-whaling campaigns in the Southern Ocean. Activists aboard its vessels would hurl smoke bombs and butyric acid stink bombs at the whalers and drag ropes in the water to foul their propellers. They claim they have saved thousands of whales.

Last December, just before the whaling season was to begin, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Watson and anyone acting “in concert” with them to keep 500 meters away from the whaling vessels.

The Japanese whalers argue that the organization violated that order 10 times early this year, including the deliberate ramming of a fuel ship by a protest vessel. Sea Shepherd denies that account, saying the protest vessel was simply trying to block the refueling of a whaling ship when the whaling ship boxed it in.

The whalers asked the court to impose fines of $100,000 for each violation, though they suggested the court waive those fines as long as the protesters stop confronting their ships.

In response to the injunction, Sea Shepherd says it withdrew from any participation in the anti-whaling campaign, and Watson stepped down from the organization. Instead, Watson and Sea Shepherd said, its cousin, Sea Shepherd of Australia Ltd., took over — and that organization insists it wasn’t subject to the court’s order.

The hearing in Seattle, which began last week, is aimed in part at determining whether the Australian organization carried out the protest in concert with Sea Shepherd. The whalers argue that the distinction between Sea Shepherd and its Australian counterpart is largely fictional: Sea Shepherd spent about $2.5 million preparing for the protest, including the cost of fuel and ship crews eventually used in the protest.

Watson, whose exploits have been featured on the Animal Planet reality television show “Whale Wars,” insisted that it was important for him to comply with the injunction — but by the time the injunction was issued, he was already on board one of the protest vessels. He remained only as an observer, he said, and at one point urged Sea Shepherd of Australia to abide by the court’s injunction.

He also argued in court Wednesday that although the injunction ordered the protesters to keep 500 yards from the whalers, “it didn’t say anything about whether the Japanese whaling vessels could come within 500 yards of us.”

During cross examination, John Neupert, an attorney for the whalers, suggested it was odd for Watson to resign from Sea Shepherd — and his overall command of four protest vessels — when if he had remained in charge he could have ensured that the vessels complied with the injunction.

Watson said he didn’t believe he could have ensured compliance with the order. The captains of the ships were likely to intervene if they believed a whale’s life was at stake, he said.

He fled from Germany last year after being arrested at the behest of the Costa Rican government, which is pursuing him on a warrant that claims he endangered a fishing crew in 2002. He has said he believes the arrest was made under pressure from Japan, and that he eventually would have been extradited there had he remained in Germany.

Jeff Hansen, director of Sea Shepherd of Australia, testified Tuesday that his organization did not coordinate with the American Sea Shepherd group after the injunction was issued. He said he does not believe the U.S. courts have jurisdiction over international waters — “no disrespect, of course,” he told the court.

And he vowed that no matter what the U.S. court rules, his organization will forge ahead with plans to challenge the Japanese whaling fleet early next year.

“We’re answering to our clients, which is the whales,” he said.

  • Ramtane Lamamra

    lol I wonder if the bailiff had to explain to Watson what “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” actually means?

    • SSCS4EVER

      He probably not have to do that, but I’m almost 100% sure that the whalers had to be told (and probably shown drawings) what that means since they have a habit of telling lies and faking stuff !!

  • Dennie Macumber

    STOP killing the whales ,extinction means gone forever. Wake up JAPAN.

  • deBare

    Paul Watson is a hero. Who else is standing up for one of the most amazing species on our planet?!? Can you imagine if the ‘scientific’ research of any other endangered species – gorillas, elephants, rhinos, pandas etc – involved the killing of those animals (and selling of their meat) in order to complete the alleged studies? The world would be rightfully outraged as they are at the spurious pretence by Japanese killing whales in the alleged name of science. What a joke! For a nation which has given the world so many high quality scientific and technological advancements in the 20th and 21st centuries, it must be curious and embarrassing for modern Japanese to defend a barbaric practice that dates back hundreds of years. I’m all in favour of allowing Japan to continue whaling just like their ancestors did – using exactly and ONLY the types of ships, harpoons and navigational tools that their ancestors did in the 1600s. That would at least create a level playing field. To me any time you defend a practice as ‘culturally critical’ to today’s way of life, you better make sure everything else lines up with those past practices including the exact methods used. It’s hard to defend and justify a way of life that simply does not exist any longer. Japan is no longer a feudal state governed by an Emperor who was treated like a god. The country and world have long evolved to a more enlightened state of mind. Why try to hold onto one throwback to the dark ages when you’ve moved forward in every other aspect of your modern way of life?!? Hopefully a younger generation of Japanese (like Icelanders) will finally free their country from the shameful shackles of this unnecessary cruelty against whales!

  • Ramtane Lamamra

    Hey Don, say that Sea Shepherd can no longer run its Southern Ocean campaigns. Would that be a catastrophic defeat for Sea Shepherd, do you think?

    • AnimuX

      It’s amusing that every year around this time pro-whaling antagonists confidently declare that Sea Shepherd will fail only to then witness Japan’s whale poaching fleet sent back from the Southern Ocean with a mere fraction of its intended quota just a few short months later.

      • Ramtane Lamamra

        Do the pro-whaling antagonists declare that? Or did you just make that up?

        The yearly declarations that are well documented are those by Sea Shepherd that they will bring whaling to an end and that the final whaling season is afoot. And yet every year, the whaling happens. And the following year it happens again. And again. And again.

        But this isn’t amusing, because by telling these lies, they actually relieve their supporters of millions upon millions of dollars by way of donations. All for nothing.

        Don have you decided what you’ll do when Sea Shepherd’s Southern Ocean circus is soon brought to a final close? You’re going to have to find yourself a new hobby. Have you considered adopting the cause of a species that is actually endangered? Or will you stick to the ‘survival of the cutest’ theme and go with save-the-seals or something?

      • AnimuX

        It’s not all for nothing. In fact, Japan’s own representatives proved that before the International Court when their own slide presentation explained a dramatic decline in the number of whales killed directly correlated to Sea Shepherd deploying more ships to the Southern Ocean. :-)

        Those are measurable results and people who donate to Sea Shepherd can clearly see their contribution has not been wasted.

        Last season, the whalers were sent home with the lowest catch since Japan’s bogus ‘research whaling’ began in the 1980s. Well done, Sea Shepherd Australia.Well done.

  • Tina C

    jesus was a terrorist- he attacked the authority of the Church and the politicians. god also demanded that we watch over the flora and fauna… that does NOT mean to watch it all die!

  • AnimuX

    The lack of logic and sense in that response is frankly hilarious.

    Sea Shepherd is physically interfering with those killing protected whales in a whale sanctuary. The action doesn’t get much more direct than that.

    Second, apparently you don’t understand that the international moratorium on commercial whaling, and the international whale sanctuary are actual ‘conservation efforts’.

    Protest is often suppressed through the courts whether it’s the British imprisonment of Gandhi and his followers, the American imprisonment of civil rights activists, or the Russian imprisonment of Greenpeace activists.

    So, in terms of historical precedence, Sea Shepherd is right where most protesters end up. And they didn’t punch anyone in the face to get there. But they did prevent Japan’s whale poachers from killing hundreds of whales for several years, so far. :-)

  • Robert

    i hope the entire whaling fleet sinks