The Unravelling of Sea Shepherd
In 1971, I set out on a stormy November cruise from Vancouver, northward to a remote barren island called Amchitka in the Alaskan Aleutian archipelago.
By Captain Paul Watson, Founder – Sea Shepherd 1977.
The ship was called the Greenpeace Too and our objective was to stop a bomb. Not just any bomb, but a five-megaton nuclear bomb buried under the island, a test by the United States of an insane weapon of mass destruction, one more test in a series of test that had already killed thousands of seals, sea otters and fish from shock waves.
We failed to stop that test, but as a result of our intervention, all further underground tests in the Aleutians were banned and in 1972, I became a founding director of the Greenpeace Foundation.
In 1974, Robert Hunter, Dr. Paul Spong and I initiated the Greenpeace campaigns to protect whales and in 1975 and 1976 we confronted the Soviet whaling fleet in the North Pacific. In 1976 and 1977, David Garrick and I initiated the Greenpeace campaigns to protect harp and hood seals off the East Coast of Canada.
It was in 1975 when a wounded Sperm whale spared my life that I became forever committed to the cause of defending whales and dolphins and I vowed to myself to eradicate the evil of whaling in my lifetime.
It was in 1977 when to save the life of a baby harp seal, I pulled a club from a Newfoundland sealer’s hand, tossed the club into the sea, and carried the seal pup away from the man who wanted to kill it. For that one act, the Greenpeace Board of Directors voted me off the Greenpeace Board accusing me of theft (the sealer’s club) and vandalism (tossing it into the sea). They said I needed to apologize to the sealer. I replied that was something I could not do and if the situation rose again, I would do the exact same thing.
In response to my dismissal, I established the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society with the strategy of aggressive nonviolence. I intended to intervene, to obstruct, to harass and to sabotage illegal whalers, sealers, fishing operations, turtle poachers and shark finners.
I considered my dismissal from Greenpeace to be one of the best things to ever happen to me. If not for that I would not have established Sea Shepherd.
In 1979, I hunted down the pirate whaler Sierra, rammed and disabled the ship and after repairs, we sank it in Lisbon Harbor. In 1986, we sank half the Icelandic whaling fleet and shut down their illegal operations for 17 years.
These were the kind of actions that I created Sea Shepherd to do, and it was what we continued to do until 2013, including driving the Japanese whaling fleet out of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
In 2012, I was detained in Germany on an extradition request by Costa Rica for intervening against an illegal Costa Rican shark finning operation. My intervention had been requested by the government of Guatemala. I was arrested in Costa Rica twice, first for attempted homicide and then for attempted assault on the word of the fishermen. Twice the charges were dropped after the court reviewed the film evidence of the encounter filmed by Rob Stewart for his documentary Sharkwater. I was given clearance to leave Costa Rica but ten years later I was arrested in Germany 2012 on an extradition request by Costa Rica for the charge of “shipwreck endangerment.”
While being held in Germany, Japan filed an extradition request for conspiracy to trespass on a whaling ship and this forced me to flee Germany without papers, to cross the North Atlantic, to cross North America to rejoin one of our ships to voyage to American Samoa where I reboarded my flagship the Steve Irwin to once again, confront the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean.
In response to my jumping bail in Germany, Japan issued an Interpol Red Notice against me. The Red Notice is used to stop serial killers, major drug traffickers and war criminals. There has never been a Red Notice issued for trespassing until my case. Costa Rica followed with a Red Notice issued against me for shipwreck endangerment.
This forced me into exile in the South Pacific for 10 months until I was allowed to return to the United States by then Secretary of State John Kerry.
The Japanese Red Notice was based on a plea deal by Pete Bethune whose vessel the Ady Gil was cut in half by a Japanese harpoon vessel in 2010. Bethune had been charged with trespassing. He made a deal with the Japanese prosecutor that if he accused me of ordering him to board the ship, they would give him a suspended sentence in return for charging me with conspiracy to trespass.
This created a crisis within Sea Shepherd when the then Board of Directors became frightened that they would be sued by Japan and voted to disallow me to return to my Board.
In response to this, one of our supporters, a Florida property developer named Pritam Singh came to my aid and helped to remove the directors opposing me. Alex Cornelissen also organized Sea Shepherd Global, and Sea Shepherd became a movement with separate entities in numerous countries.
Pritam Singh also assisted in getting permission for me to return to the USA without fear of extradition to Japan. Singh managed to secure an affidavit from Pete Bethune where Bethune stated that he lied about my ordering him to board the harpoon ship in exchange for the suspended sentence. This resulted in Secretary of State John Kerry allowing me to return to the U.S. Japan however refused to drop the charge.
As such I was appreciative and grateful for his assistance. I mistakenly assumed I could trust him and naively I failed to notice as he played the long game of marginalizing me and appointing his own people to the Board of Directors.
I was the CEO of Sea Shepherd USA from 2016 until 2019. During that time, I initiated the campaign to protect the Vaquita porpoise in Mexico called Operation Milagro. I also initiated Operations Virus Hunter to oppose salmon farms in Canada, Operation Jairo to protect sea-turtles, Operation Treasured Islands to protect Cocos and Malpelo Islands and the Galapagos, Operation Good Pirates of the Caribbean to assist the Caribbean Islands after the hurricanes, Operation Marachopa to stop illegal fishing off Peru and Operation Clean Waves to restore coral reefs and collect plastic in Kiribati. I had excellent and reliable Captains with Oona Layolle, Patricia Gabdolfo Castinera and Locky MacLean and we had hard working courageous crewmembers.
In 2017, Pritam Singh joined the Sea Shepherd U.S. Board and his business skills were quite helpful. In 2019 Pritam Singh informed me that the Board could not get director’s insurance because of my Red Notice status. He requested that I officially resign from the Board but that I could still participate in meetings. He said that I could trust him and if he ever did anything I disagreed with, all I would need to do was to request his resignation.
I argued that Costa Rica had dropped their Red Notice against me, but Singh argued that the Japanese Red Notice still presented a problem. I said that I did not need legal insurance and Singh countered by saying my being on the Board would still be a threat to all the other directors.
So quite naively, I agreed. My resignation was followed by the firing of people important to me like two Sea Shepherd captains and my own personal assistant. When I protested, I was informed that the Board had voted to remove these people and that there was nothing I could do about it.
Firing Captain Locky MacLean was illogical. On October 25th, 2019, he had just negotiated and signed a Convenio with Mexico’s Semarnat and Profepa (Federal Environmental Prosecutor’s office) that gave Sea Shepherd a mandate to collect nets inside the zero tolerance area of the Vaquita Refuge.
Also mystifying was the firing of my assistant Omar Todd. Omar had just negotiated a one-million-dollar contribution to Sea Shepherd but instead of thanking him, they accused him of not going through the proper channels to get the donation.
In 2019, Pritam Singh hired Sea Shepherd Global director Alex Cornelissen to be the CEO of Sea Shepherd US. He also hired Peter Hammerstedt to be director of campaigns.
I thought this was a good thing. I trusted both these men and I felt comfortable even though Peter Hammerstedt was replacing Captain MacLean as the director for ships and campaigns. Peter was not a hands-on in the field director.
On December 31, 2020, during a confrontation in the Mexican Sea of Cortez an attacking panga with two Molotov cocktail throwing fishermen collided with the Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat. One of the fishermen was killed.
The fault was the two fishermen but for 44 years, not a single person had ever been injured during a Sea Shepherd campaign. Within a year of my being replaced we saw the first casualty.
Pritam Singh then re-negotiated the agreement that Captain Locky MacLean had signed with Mexico. The new agreement forbade Sea Shepherd from pulling nets in the Vaquita Refuge.
I became even more concerned when I arrived at a meeting to discuss campaigns in early 2022. Peter Hammerstedt stepped out of the room before I could enter and asked that I not come in until they finished having a Zoom meeting with U.S. government representatives. When I asked why, Peter told me that if the government people saw me, it would have negative consequences for government partnerships. When I was allowed into the meeting it was to be introduced to new staff members to handle communications, outreach and ship management, none of whom had any experience with Sea Shepherd.
I was also told that I could not do any media interviews without approval of the new communications director and all my social media posts had to be approved before posting.
Sea Shepherd captains and crew were ordered to not communicate with me.
In April of 2022, both Peter and Alex resigned from their positions in protest over micro-management by Pritam Singh. They both told me they could not work with Pritam Singh and would never work with him again. This was followed by the resignation of Farrah Smith our Development director who also cited micro-management.
The Board was making decisions without my knowledge or input including the selling of our ship the Brigitte Bardot and the scrapping of our ships John Paul DeJoria, Sharpie and White Holly.
In June 2022 I brought my concerns to the Board of Directors, a Board that now included people hand-picked to support Pritam Singh and to oppose me. There were only two directors that supported me.
At the meeting in June, Pritam Singh announced that Sea Shepherd would be changing course and would no longer be involved in confrontational or controversial campaigns. I was told that my own personal history was an obstacle and an embarrassment to Sea Shepherd going forward and making scientific research and diplomacy with Latin American governments would be the priority. Singh announced the formation of a new organization funded by Sea Shepherd called Marine Protection Alliance so he could approach governments to allow cooperation without being tainted by my involvement.
I told the Board that I could not support nor participate in this change of direction. Pritam Singh then informed me that I was merely an employee, not a member of the Board and I had to do what I was told.
He scolded me before the Board saying I owed him for the support he gave me. I replied that gratitude could not be repaid by submission and the surrender of all that I had created.
He said too bad, he had complete control of Sea Shepherd, and I should consider myself lucky to have a job with a comfortable salary.
I replied that I would not be an impotent paid figurehead of the organization I created. I asked Pritam Singh for his resignation that he once promised if I disagreed with him. He said that was not going to happen.
I said that I would quit and carry on working as a director of Sea Shepherd Global to continue what I had been doing for the last four decades to which he informed me that there were two of his lawyers in the meeting and they informed me that I could not use the name I created or the logos I designed and that I could not compete with Sea Shepherd USA, I could not contact supporters nor communicate with staff or directors.
After they cut me off from the meeting, the Board voted to remove the two directors that supported me.
In July 2022, I resigned from Sea Shepherd USA and prepared to continue to work with Sea Shepherd Global.
Shortly after my resignation and unbeknownst to me as a director of Sea Shepherd Global, Alex Cornelissen made an agreement with Pritam Singh and Sea Shepherd US to work in partnership with them. Global Director Lamya Essemlali the President of France was also not informed of this decision.
Without Board approval, Pritam Singh had used Sea Shepherd U.S. funds to covertly register trademarks for the name and logos around the world. With those trademarks he threatened Sea Shepherd Global with cooperation, or he would sue them for trademark violations.
Without a fight they capitulated and agreed to the demands of the U.S. Sea Shepherd Board.
On September 1st, I received an email from Alex Cornelissen informing me that I was dismissed from the Global Board. Lamya Essemlali and I were not invited to a board meeting for a discussion or a vote. I was simply dismissed by Alex Cornelissen and neither he nor Jeff Hansen or Peter Hammarstedt have contacted me or responded to any messages from me since.
The organization that I created was scrapping me just as they scrapped our ships.
On November 15th, the legendary Bob Barker, the ship that I had purchased and commanded for many years was beached in a scrap yard in Turkey.
If they needed to retire the ship, they could have sent it on a one-way mission to the Faroe Islands, to Norway or Iceland to defend whales. The Faroes had threatened to seize any Sea Shepherd ship to enter their waters. That would have been a noble end to the career of such a fine vessel, generating media coverage and leaving the responsibility to dispose of the ship with the Faroese.
One of the Sea Shepherd captains wanted to take the ship to Spain to challenge the Spanish government’s defense of illegal fishing by Spanish ships on the high seas. The Spanish courts had threatened Sea Shepherd with the seizure of any Sea Shepherd ship that entered their waters. That would have been a serious controversial scandal and one hell of a story. But instead, Alex and Peter had the ship driven up on a beach of a breaker’s year to be ignobly cut up for scrap.
Not all the Sea Shepherd national entities have abandoned the tried-and-true strategies and direction that I established with Sea Shepherd.
The groups that continue to stand with me include Sea Shepherd France, the U.K., Brazil, Canada, Uruguay, Hungary, New Caledonia, and Tahiti. The others have decided to submit although Sea Shepherd Switzerland has decided unsurprisingly to sit on the fence.
Going forward I have established the Captain Paul Watson Foundation to carry on in those areas where Sea Shepherd groups have submitted to the more mediocre approach. My Foundation has already secured our first ship and working on securing a 2nd ship.
The spirit of Sea Shepherd will carry on, in part with a new name, a new flag and a new logo. The attempt to silence and marginalize me has only served to motivate me to renew, re-organize and rebuild to carry on serving life and diversity in the sea.
In 1977, being forced out of increasingly bureaucratic Greenpeace, I created a new path to establishing something more effective, more active, more confrontational, and more controversial. Now I have been forced out of an increasingly bureaucratic Sea Shepherd, a move that now allows me to once again recreate a more effective, more active, more confrontational, and more controversial new approach which is in fact the same approach that I began with fifty years ago.
Life in the Ocean needs us to be uncompromising, aggressive, and motivated by action to expose, to block, to harass, sabotage and shut down the criminal operations destroying oceanic eco-systems, wasting so much life, and diminishing diversity.