German authorities have confirmed that they will push ahead with plans to extradite the Sea Shepherd Captain to Costa Rica on an outstanding warrant, squashing previous hopes of an imminent release.
Watson, who was heading to France, was apprehended at a Frankfurt airport on May 13 for his involvement in an April 2002 incident that occurred when the Costa Rican Government requested his assistance to combat shark poaching around Cocos Island, off the shore of Costa Rica.
While en route to Cocos Island, Watson's vessel encountered the Costa Rican boat the Varadero I, which was illegally poaching sharks in the area. Guatemalan authorities asked Sea Shepherd to escort the boat into port. According to a press release issued on Sunday by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS), it was while Watson was escorting the Varadero back to port that:
The tables were turned and a Guatemalan gunboat was dispatched to intercept the Sea Shepherd crew. The crew of the Varadero accused the Sea Shepherds of trying to kill them, while the video evidence proves this to be a fallacy.
Canadian photographer and movie director Rob Stewart, who accompanied Watson on his 2002 mission, filmed the entire encounter as it happened. His footage evolved into the 2007 award-winning documentary Sharkwater. Stewart said at the time that the turnabout by authorities puzzled him, until he queried why "Underground Taiwanese fishing operations, which used private docks, were routinely ignored by Costa Rican authorities."
Stewart said once he discovered that "Taiwan invests millions of dollars every year in Costa Rica – building bridges, highways, and buildings, our arrests started to make sense." The director released footage today from from his documentary Sharkwater as video evidence to prove Watson’s innocence. [See featured video above which appears courtesy of Sharkwater].
In response to Watson's arrest, the Sea Shepherd organization has issued an urgent call to action on behalf of its Captain. SSCS said via a press release issued today:
German officials have decided to proceed with the extradition of Captain Watson to Costa Rica. Our last hope of saving Captain Watson from extradition is to convince German officials at the Ministry of Justice to step in and overturn their decision.
Sea Shepherd, who is calling the arrest "politically motivated," said the warrant "should be ignored." The organization is urging its supporters to contact Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, the Federal Minister of Justice in Berlin, Germany. "With international support," SSCS added, "we can set Captain Watson free, and keep him from the possibility of facing an unfair trial in Costa Rica."
Costa Rica has a notorious history when it comes to illegal shark-finning. In January 2011, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and his TV crew were allegedly held at gunpoint and dowsed with gasoline during the filming of his documentary on the shark-finning trade in Costa Rica, said to be controlled by the Taiwanese mafia.
Costa Rica is one of the world’s largest exporters of shark fins. The trade is thought to be worth millions of dollars with a single bowl of shark fin soup selling for up to $100 in some restaurants. At the end of 2011 for example, up to 2,000 hammerhead, Galápagos and whale sharks were discovered slaughtered for their fins in a Pacific Ocean marine sanctuary off Colombia. The slaughter was conducted by Costa Rican fishermen who after brutally hacking off the sharks' fins, threw the live animals back into the ocean where they drowned.
Watson and his organization Sea Shepherd, also regularly cross swords with Japan's whaling fleet, as seen in the popular Animal Planet series, Whale Wars. And Japanese authorities may have been pondering an extradition request of their own. However, according to the Japan Times, the Japanese government was unlikely to send investigators to Germany or Costa Rica because the allegations leveled against Watson are not serious, and Japan does not have an extradition treaty with either Germany or Costa Rica.
Furthermore, INTERPOL reiterated a 2010 statement yesterday addressed to:
All 190 member countries making it clear that it would not publish a Red Notice seeking the arrest of Paul Franklin Watson because its Office of Legal Affairs was not satisfied that the request was in compliance with INTERPOL’s Constitution and Rules.
Sandy McElhaney and supporters at the Social Media Campaign: Save Misty the Dolphin, told Digital Journal that they consider the Sea Shepherd's call to action a rallying cry for "All Hands on Deck!" McElhaney said, "Paul Watson is a hero. The criminals who illegally kill hundreds of thousands of sharks each year belong in jail NOT Captain Watson! Please take action – make a phone call – send a letter and be sure to watch Sharkwater!"
Meanwhile, the UK's Telegraph newspaper, is reporting that actress and animal rights campaigner Brigitte Bardot, has offered to take Watson's place in jail. In a statement, Bardot (77), said she was outraged by the fact that Watson had been put in prison and offered "to take his place because I am his accomplice." Bardot called Watson, "My brother in arms."
Further support for Watson has come from the office of legislator Claudio Monge Pereira, a representative of Partido Accion Ciudadana (Civil Action), an opposition political party in Costa Rica, said the Costa Rica Star. Mr. Monge issued a statement of solidarity for Watson and called for authorities "To evaluate the need to put this old matter to rest." He also described the arrest warrant from 2002 as, "unfortunate."