'Pirate' Paul Watson Abandons Ship Ahead of Sea Shepherd Arrival

By Pierre Dumont , Mar 21, 2013 08:44 AM EDT

Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, left the organization's group of anti-whaling ships prior to their safe docking in Australia on Wednesday. Prior to docking, the group spent weeks antagonizing Japanese whalers in the Antarctic Ocean.

The Australian government claims it currently has no plans to put Watson under arrest. Last year a U.S. federal court labeled the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society "pirates" and the France-based international police organization Interpol states on its website that Watson is wanted by Japan for "hooliganism/vandalism/damage, life and health." He is also wanted by Costa Rica for supposedly endangering a fishing vessel crew in 2002. He was arrested at the orders of the Costa Rican government last year, prompting him to flee Germany in July.

Sea Shepherd Australia's three ships and 110 crewmembers arrived in Williamstown on Wednesday morning. The ships, including the Sam Simon, the Steve Irwin and the Bob Barker, all were damaged after engaging the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru. The three ships tailed four Japanese whaling vessels, preventing them from refueling and interfering with the whale hunt. As a result, the Sea Shepherd ships were hit with concussion grenades and water cannons.

"It's been a long campaign, it's certainly been the most dangerous to date," said Bob Barker skipper Peter Hammarstedt. "Never before have the Japanese whalers been as brazen, as reckless, as violent as they have been this year. My vessel carries scars from battle and those scars were delivered by illegal Japanese whaling boats that were killing whales unlawfully in Australian Antarctic territorial waters."

The Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research, which runs Japan's whaling program, states that the Sea Shepherd ships "sabotaged" its factory ship. Meanwhile, Sea Shepherd claims the Japanese vessel purposely rammed their three ships.

Japan set a quota of capturing more than 1,000 minke and fin whales this season. It claims that its hunt does not break international laws on whale hunting because it is done for the purpose of "scientific research." Sea Shepherd claims that just 75 were caught, making for the smallest haul to date.

"Many of the whales are heading to Australia right now rather than as lumps of meat on a factory ship heading to Tokyo," said Sea Shepherd director Bob Brown.

The Sea Shepherd ships will stay in Williamstown for several months while repairs are completed. Meanwhile, Paul Watson's whereabouts remain unknown.

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