SYDNEY – (AFP) – Militant conservationist Paul Watson, who is wanted by Interpol, has confirmed he is back onboard a Sea Shepherd vessel and ready to confront Japanese whalers.
The Canadian’s whereabouts had been a mystery since July when he jumped bail in Germany, where he was arrested on charges stemming from a high-seas confrontation over shark finning in 2002.
Sea Shepherd had said the white-bearded captain would be involved in this season’s campaign against Japan’s whaling operations and he confirmed in a statement that he was back in charge.
“The deck of the Steve Irwin is again under my feet,” Watson said late Tuesday. “I have an awesome crew and our ship is on course for Antarctica.”
Sea Shepherd, whose vessels harass the Japanese whaling fleet to prevent them slaughtering whales, had previously said its ships would journey north to head off the harpoonists before they reached Antarctica.
“Apparently they believed it,” Watson said.
“Their coastguard mobilised and they went to a great deal of expense and effort to sneak quietly out of port.
“Of course we had no intention of heading north at all. We are waiting for them in the south, but before they reach the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.”
The Steve Irwin, Sea Shepherd’s flagship, left its Melbourne dock on November 5. It is not known where Watson boarded the vessel.
Takaaki Sakamoto, an official at Japan’s fisheries agency, said: “We will discuss with relevant ministries how Japan will react to Watson’s being on board.”
He declined to disclose information on the whereabouts of Japan’s whaling ships, citing fears of attacks by Sea Shepherd.
Watson, who for years has harassed Japan’s whale hunt, was arrested in Germany in May for extradition to Costa Rica over the shark finning incident in 2002. He says the charges are politically motivated, driven by Tokyo.
He said it had been a long, four-month journey from Germany.
“Across two oceans and countless rivers, over three mountain ranges, across a desert, over lakes, and through dozens of cities and towns,” he said.
“A trifle inconvenient without a passport or any form of identification and all the more difficult without credit cards or access to ATM machines, without access to the Internet or even a cellphone.”
Sea Shepherd’s ninth campaign, named Operation Zero Tolerance, is its largest against Japan’s whale hunt and involves four ships, a helicopter, three drones and more than 100 crew members.
Three of the vessels, the Steve Irwin, Bob Barker and Brigitte Bardot, are all at sea while the Sam Simon is at an undisclosed location.
Confrontations between the whalers and activists have escalated in recent years and the Japanese cut their hunt short in early 2011 due to Sea Shepherd harassment.
Japan hunts whales using a loophole in a global moratorium that allows killing the sea mammals for what it calls “scientific research”, although the meat is later sold openly in shops and restaurants.
Watson said he believed that Japan would one day move to protecting whales and he hoped this would be the last year Sea Shepherd makes the “long, expensive and dangerous voyage” to the Southern Ocean.
“But we will return again next year and the year after that, and every year thereafter until the whale killing is ended,” he said.