Sea Shepherd captain and founder Paul Watson, who has been entangled in a legal mess with Costa Rica since May 2012, said on Thursday that an Interpol red alert ordered by Costa Rica against him has been dropped.
Costa Rica, however, denied the claim, saying Watson is still wanted by Costa Rican officials.
“Everything continues as it was,” a judicial branch spokeswoman said. “His [Watson’s] case remains active, and the moment he is arrested in another country we will request his extradition [to Costa Rica].”
Watson posted on his Facebook page that, “I have returned to the United States. The Interpol Red Notice from Costa Rica has been dropped. I will challenge the Japan notice in the U.S. If required. … We carry on with our efforts to save the oceans, undeterred and undaunted.”
Watson arrived in Los Angeles, California, on Monday, after 15 months at sea, passed through customs and “was not arrested,” Lamya Essemlali, head of Sea Shepherd France, told Agence France-Presse.
A search of Interpol’s website shows only one active Red Notice, issued on behalf of Japan. A Red Notice does not appear on behalf of Costa Rica. Sources close to Watson’s case say the absence of a Red Notice from Costa Rica on Interpol’s website and the fact that Watson was not arrested in the United States demonstrate that Costa Rican officials are not being forthcoming with their Thursday statement to The Tico Times.
Watson’s legal problems stem from a high-seas incident more than 10 years ago off the coast of Guatemala. En route to Costa Rica to sign a deal with the government to protect and patrol Cocos Island, a national park 365 miles west of the Pacific port of Puntarenas, Watson and his crew came upon a Costa Rican fishing vessel that they say was illegally finning sharks. The incident was captured in the documentary film “Sharkwater.”
The crew of the Costa Rican vessel claimed that the Sea Shepherd vessel attacked them. Costa Rican officials said that prosecutors filed charges in 2002 against the 62-year-old Canadian captain for allegedly endangering the lives of eight fishermen and for attempting to cause a shipwreck. Watson did not attend a trial on June 26, 2006, and the Costa Rican courts considered him a fugitive.
He was arrested in Germany in May 2012 on the Interpol red alert, and Costa Rica began efforts to extradite him. He could have faced a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
He was later released on bail while a German court reviewed Costa Rica’s extradition request. Watson fled Germany and has been in hiding ever since, although he continued his efforts to halt the Japanese whale slaughter off the coast of Antarctica, the subject of Animal Planet’s TV show “Whale Wars.”
According to a June 4, 2013 interview with The New Yorker, Watson escaped Germany by driving to the Netherlands without a passport (there are no border points between Germany and the Netherlands), where he boarded a ship and headed to the South Pacific. At sea, Watson remained out of the jurisdiction of Interpol and foreign law enforcement.
In a May 25, 2012 interview with The Tico Times, Watson said he feared for his life if returned to Costa Rica.
“Apparently, they said I was supposed to go to court over it in , but nobody told me. I wasn’t given a date or time or place or anything by anybody,” Watson said.
“My problem is not that I don’t believe I can get a fair trial in Costa Rica, my problem is that I’ve gotten threats from the shark finners in Costa Rica throughout the last 15 years. I’ve been told that there’s a price on my head by some of them, and I’m not too concerned about the court, I’m concerned about the jail. If I get into a jail in Costa Rica, I could be killed, because of that contract,” he added.
Watson also faces an Interpol Red Notice issued by Japan in September 2012. Japan has accused the Sea Shepherd founder of “breaking into [a] vessel, damage to property, forcible obstruction of business, and injury,” stemming from two incidents that took place on the Antarctic Ocean in February 2010 against a Japanese whaling ship.
Watson said he would challenge a Red Notice requested by Japan in the United States, adding that he was “heading to Seattle to defend Sea Shepherd and myself from the … civil suit launched by the Japanese whalers.”
Watson decided to disembark to testify in a court case due to take place next week in Seattle, Washington, over his marine conservation organization’s actions in Antarctica against Japanese whalers.
His Facebook page was immediately flooded with thousands of “likes” and hundreds of comments.
“So glad you are back! Please keep up the fight for our oceans! You are a modern day hero!” wrote Melissa Smith-Janicek, while Sebastian Phillips wrote: “This world needs more like you … stay strong, outlast, change the world!”
The Sea Shepherd captain participated in a new campaign against Japanese whalers in Antarctica last winter.
When an anti-whaling fleet he had been on docked in Australia in March, he made no appearance on the ground but the country’s attorney general had hinted he would not be detained if he came to shore.
Japanese authorities describe methods used by Sea Shepherd against whaling ships – for example blocking the boats’ propellers – as “terrorist.” Watson, however, thinks the Japanese whalers are the terrorists.
A U.S. appeals court in February labeled Sea Shepherd as pirates, overturning a lower court’s ruling against Japanese whalers. Sea Shepherd were ordered to maintain a distance of 500 meters from Japanese whaling ships.
Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research and others are pursuing legal action in the United States, seeking an injunction against their activities on the high seas.
Japan claims it conducts vital scientific research using a loophole in an international whaling ban agreed at the International Whaling Commission (IWC), but makes no secret that the mammals ultimately end up on dinner plates.
Japan defends whaling as a tradition and accuses Western critics of disrespecting its culture. Animal rights activists say the culture argument is dishonest.
Watson also has accused Costa Rica of issuing the Interpol request as a favor to the Japanese government, which wants to see the Sea Shepherd founder behind bars for – according to Watson – the conservation group’s disruption of a multimillion-dollar whaling business in the Southern Sea. The Costa Rican request for Watson’s arrest – which happened a decade after the incident took place – occurred just months after a bilateral meeting between Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
Chinchilla has dismissed the claim, saying Costa Rica maintains a separation of powers between the judicial and executive branches.
This story was updated at 6:51 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 31. AFP contributed to the story. Follow updates at www.ticotimes.net.