|Politician from ex-whaling nation Australia takes helm at Sea Shepherd
Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson, stepped down from key roles today, passing the anti-whaling mission against the Japanese in Antarctic waters, to Bob Brown, a former Australian politician.
For decades Australia was also a whaling nation, slaughtering 40,000 humpbacks and 16,000 sperm whales from 1952 to 1978.
Canadian Watson is wanted by Interpol after skipping bail last July in Germany, where he was arrested on Costa Rican charges relating to a high-seas confrontation over shark finning in 2002, AFP reports.
Due to a raft of legal issues he has stepped down as president of the group in the US and Australia, and as captain of flagship anti-whale hunt vessel the Steve Irwin, although he will remain with the fleet this year.
Watson's whereabouts had been a mystery until December, when he confirmed that he was back on board a Sea Shepherd vessel and ready for the group's annual Southern Ocean expedition against the Japanese whaling fleet.
Sea Shepherd said Brown – founder and long-time chief of Australia's environmentally-minded Greens party – will direct operations.
The Steve Irwin will be captained by Indian sailor Siddharth Chakravarty, formerly the ship's first officer, with Watson to “remain aboard to document the campaign''.
Sea Shepherd Australia director Jeff Hansen will co-direct the campaign, and said the change in leadership was a natural evolution given the Australian chapter's heavy involvement and the continent's proximity to Antarctica. Australia stopped commercial whaling in 1978.
Hansen said Watson's legal problems had played a part in the decision.
“We obviously always want to stay within the law in everything that we do, and in order for us to stay within the law Sea Shepherd Australia is taking over the leadership of this campaign, the management of this campaign and Paul will step down from the board in Australia and in America,'' Hansen said.
Under a ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Sea Shepherd must stay at least 500 yards (meters) from whaling vessels and is prohibited from physically confronting any vessel engaged by the Japanese.
They are also banned from “navigating in a manner that is likely to endanger the safe navigation of any such vessel’’ under the court's order, issued last month.
Sea Shepherd claims to have saved the lives of 4,000 whales over the past eight whaling seasons, mounting ever-greater campaigns of harassment against the Japanese whaling fleet. They say this year's will be its biggest yet, involving four ships, a helicopter, three drones and more than 100 crew members.
The whaling fleet left Japan for the Southern Ocean in late December, planning to catch up to 935 Antarctic minke whales and up to 50 fin whales.