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It has been 10 years since I have commanded the helm of a ship. That was in 2013, in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary with Operation Zero Tolerance, when we prevented the Japanese whaling fleet from killing 90% of its quota of minke whales.

It was my last high seas campaign. Not by choice but by circumstances.

At the conclusion of the campaign I was forced into exile in the South Pacific because Japan had issued an Interpol Red Notice for my arrest on the charge of conspiracy to trespass on a whaling ship.

I had never set foot on a Japanese whaling ship, but in 2011, a man named Peter Bethune boarded a harpoon vessel and was arrested for trespassing. I specifically told him not to board the vessel but he ignored me and did so anyway.

The harpoon ship immediately returned to Japan and Bethune was locked up to await a trial. What he did however was cowardly. He made a deal with the prosecutor. In return for signing a statement declaring that I had ordered him to board the vessel, he was given a suspended sentence. He was released and returned to New Zealand and I was officially charged with conspiracy to trespass. 

 

Island exile

I spent six months on deserted islands in the South Pacific until my lawyers convinced Bethune to sign an affidavit declaring he had lied in exchange for the suspended sentence. With that affidavit, then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gave me clearance to return to the United States and the government of France also gave me clearance to enter France. Japan, however, refused to recognize Bethune’s affidavit and refused to drop the Interpol Red Notice against me.

The Interpol Red Notice is used to capture serial killers, war criminals, major drug traffickers and terrorists. I am the only person in the history of Interpol Red Notices cited for trespassing. 

With an Interpol Red Notice over my head it was too risky to travel and I was forced to become landbound. Although I could coordinate campaigns and ship operations I could not physically participate.

I initiated the campaigns to protect the endangered vaquita in Mexico, to oppose invasive salmon farms in western Canada, to remove marine debris from Cocos Island and to oppose Icelandic whaling.

 

Branching out

My inability to work in the field allowed others to gain more control over campaigns and operations. I encouraged Sea Shepherd to become a movement of independent national entities, and I encouraged others to become leaders and decision-makers.

We decentralized Sea Shepherd in 2013 to allow for some leaders to initiate campaigns completely independent of myself. This allowed Sea Shepherd France to become incredibly active in protecting sharks at LaReunion Island, turtles at Mayotte Island, and dolphins being killed by the French trawler fleet. It allowed Sea Shepherd UK to organize the opposition to the killing of pilot whales and dolphins in the Faroe Islands and to organize an extensive campaign to remove ghost nets from British waters. It allowed Sea Shepherd Brazil to launch a campaign to protect Amazon River dolphins.

This approach was seemingly ideal, but it depended upon everyone connected with Sea Shepherd to uphold the principles that I established when I first founded Sea Shepherd in 1977.

This meant using the principle of aggressive non-violence to intervene against illegal activities destroying marine life and ecosystems, and to operate independent of government, to say what needed to be said and to take action to stop poachers on the high seas. It meant not compromising with governments and corporations. 

It meant being motivated by passion, inspired by imagination and defiantly courageous.

In 2013, we established Sea Shepherd Global as a way to manage ship and campaign operations. It was not set up to control all the Sea Shepherd entities. It included six directors: Alex Cornelissen and Geert Vons from the Netherlands, Jeff Hansen from Australia, Lamya Essemlali from France, Peter Hammarstedt from Sweden, and myself as the Sea Shepherd founder.

 

Betrayed

What I did not anticipate is betrayal by people who I trusted, mentored and enabled. People that I felt to be friends.

It began in 2019 when Peter Hammarstedt opposed my campaign to oppose Icelandic whaling, citing concerns about being critical of governments because of what he described as a need to “rebrand” Sea Shepherd.

Despite his opposition, the 2019 Icelandic campaign was successful when Iceland canceled its whaling operations for that season.

Hammarstedt and Cornelissen had organized a program to work in partnership with some African nations to assist in patrolling their territorial waters. Initially it was a good plan and many poachers were intercepted.

I was concerned, however, when these African governments began to make demands. They objected to our Jolly Roger flag as being too aggressive. They demanded the ships be painted a drab gray, and they demanded approval of all media releases and statements. Without consultation with Lamya or myself, Alex and Peter submitted to the demands of the African governments they were working for. 

 

Unanswered questions

Lamya Essemlali began to ask questions about the effectiveness of the African campaigns. These questions were about how long the poaching vessels were detained, what fines were paid, and whether the vessels were simply released and allowed to return to sea. I asked questions about working with governments that were voting with Japan to support whaling at the International Whaling Commission meetings.

 

Our questions went unanswered.

I was also asking questions of Jeff Hansen and the Sea Shepherd Australia Board, of which I was a member. My concern was the collaboration between Sea Shepherd Australia and Austral Fisheries, a company 50% owned by the Japanese fishing company Maruha Daichiro. Although I knew the answers, my concerns were ignored.

I would never have imagined that the Sea Shepherd that I had created would be working with a fishing and whaling company. My concern was met with a threat of dismissal from the Australian Board. In response, I resigned out of shame to be associated with their relationship to a company we should be in 100% opposition to.

And now, Sea Shepherd Global is using donor’s funds to sue Sea Shepherd France, demanding that Lamya Essemlali cease and desist from using the name and logo she had established seven years before Sea Shepherd Global was established.

Sea Shepherd USA is suing me — with the demand that I have no right to use my own name in setting up the Captain Paul Watson Foundation. The Sea Shepherd USA lawyers are saying my use of my own name represents unfair competition with Sea Shepherd, because my name is so closely linked to Sea Shepherd and that this is cause for “irreparable damage to the Sea Shepherd brand.”

We are fighting these suits against us but we are not allowing this situation to stifle our activism. 

Sea Shepherd France is working hard and making great progress to stop the killing of dolphins in French waters.

And my Captain Paul Watson Foundation is on schedule to intervene against Icelandic whalers this coming summer. Our new ship, the John Paul DeJoria, entered drydock in early March and will be fully prepared for sea and campaigns in April. The Icelandic whaling season begins in early June, and I will be commanding the ship and operations myself despite my Red Notice status.

 

Lifelong mission

I have dedicated my entire life to ending the perversion of whaling, with great success against whaling operations in Spain, South Africa, Australia, the Soviet Union, Norway, Denmark and Japan, in addition to shutting down pirate whaling operations.

I will continue doing so until whaling is eradicated or to the day I die, whichever comes first.

It is a tough and difficult task. We drove the Japanese whaling fleet out of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary but it appears to have been a temporary victory. Japan is preparing to return, despite the International Court of Justice decision that their Southern Ocean whaling operations are illegal. My crew and I intend to be in the Southern Ocean when they do.

If I am detained along the way due to the Red Notice, I will fight for the whales in the courts of Japan. That means no matter what the evidence, I will be convicted. But if I do land in a Japanese court, I won’t be begging for mercy nor shedding tears of remorse. I will shout my defiance to the world of my condemnation for Japan’s despicable crimes against the cetacean nation.

Defending and protecting whales has always been about risk. I have been taking these risks all my life, from ramming and ending the career of the pirate whaler Sierra in 1979, to invading Soviet Siberia to get evidence on illegal whaling in 1981, to sinking half the Icelandic whaling fleet in 1986, to engaging in a confrontation with the Norwegian Navy in 1994, to successfully chasing the Japanese whaling fleet between 2005 and 2017.

My detractors have repeatedly told me that I was going to be killed, or that I would kill someone, or I would be jailed. All I can say is that now at age 72, I’ve never killed or injured anyone. I’m still alive, and if my fate is to go to prison in Japan for opposing their illegal whaling operations, well so be it — with the hope that my fate will inspire others to rise up and defend life and diversity in the sea.

These risks are worth taking, considering the fact that if the ocean dies, we will all die!

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