High-seas protester slips past Kiwi search

Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson.
Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson.

A high-profile anti-whaling activist wanted internationally has played cat-and-mouse with New Zealand authorities, while finding time to swim with dolphins off the coast of the South Island.

Maverick activist and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society founder Paul Watson narrowly evaded officials by switching ships near or in New Zealand waters at the weekend.

Interpol has issued two "red notices" on Watson at the request of Costa Rica and Japan. A red notice is a request for any country to locate an individual with a view to their provisional arrest and extradition.

A fleet of Sea Shepherd ships visited New Zealand during the weekend as the protest group prepared to embark on its ninth annual campaign against Japanese whalers who harvest whales in the Southern Ocean.

The organisation has four ships manned by more than 100 international crew in the Southern Ocean to try and intercept the whalers, which in the past had resulted in violent clashes.

Three anti-whaling ships - the Steve Irwin, the Brigitte Bardot and the Bob Barker - cleared New Zealand Customs during the weekend, but Watson was not on board the Steve Irwin, which he captains, when it docked in Timaru harbour on Saturday.

He had been on the ship, but switched to another vessel before his ship arrived in Timaru.

"My concern was, if I went into New Zealand I'd be detained and not be able to lead my ships down to the Southern Ocean," Watson told The Press last night.

"They asked if I was on board then they searched the ship for me." He said he would never be released if successfully extradited to Japan.

Watson said he was "pretty shocked" the New Zealand Government appeared to be complying with Japanese authorities.

"From what I gather, New Zealand will comply with Japan. The Government has made its position very clear."

Steve Irwin first mate Sidd Harth was acting captain for the Timaru inspection, and met customs officers after docking.

"Part of their procedure was to ask what crew was on board and specifically if Captain Paul Watson was on board," he said. "When I told them he wasn't and that he had been transferred off the ship in international waters . . . they were satisfied and cleared the vessel."

Customs officers also searched the Steve Irwin, he said.

"I took them around the ship and they had a look through and satisfied themselves Paul Watson wasn't on board."

Watson swam with Hector's dolphins off the coast of Timaru on Saturday and was on board the SSS Brigitte Bardot during the customs search of the Steve Irwin vessel.

Customs acting group manager Terry Brown said the Brigitte Bardot and Bob Barker had been cleared in Wellington and said Paul Watson had not been listed as a crew member on either ship.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said Sea Shepherd vessels had entered and departed New Zealand ports in the past month and it was normal practice to provide authorities with crew lists.

"If a person named in an Interpol Red Notice enters New Zealand, as a member of Interpol there is an obligation to notify the issuing country," McCully said.

He said the purpose of a red notice was to provide the issuing government with an "opportunity to initiate extradition proceedings".

Civil rights lawyer Michael Bott said governments "could and should act with discretion" when it came to red notices from Interpol. "He's not a war criminal and it's my understanding that the charges are historic and highly contested so . . . it could be seen as political."

If the New Zealand Government acted on the red notice, it could be seen as "trying to buddy up to Japan", he said.

There was a "murky line" between legal obligation and politics in the case, Bott said.

The SSS Brigitte Bardot was spotted by Akaroa visitors on Friday but did not berth in the harbour.

Commercial whaling is banned under an international treaty but Japan has been catching whales in the Southern Ocean claiming it was for scientific research.


Paul Watson is a Canadian activist and founder and president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Watson skipped bail in Germany last year and Interpol has issued a red notice for historic charges in Japan and Costa Rica.

A red notice is a request for any country to locate an individual with a view to their arrest and extradition.

A red notice, issued on September 14, said Watson was sought by Japan on charges of breaking into a vessel, damage to property, forcible obstruction of business and injury in relation to two incidents that took place on the Antarctic Ocean in February 2010.

The Interpol website said the red notice was in addition to the red notice issued at the request of Costa Rica.

Watson said in 2002, while filming a documentary about a Costa Rican shark fin operation, it was claimed he threatened to kill fishermen. Watson denied the accusation but said it was the reason for the notice.

A red notice is not an international arrest warrant.

The Press