In 2006, while the Canadian registered Farley Mowat was in Antarctic waters, the Canadian Registry of Shipping through the Canadian Department of Transport changed the status of the Farley Mowat from yacht to commercial vessel. When the ship reached the next port of call in Cape Town, South Africa in early March, Captain Watson was informed by the South African Marine Safety Authority (SAMSA) that he was in violation of Canadian Department of Transportation regulations for operating a commercial vessel without the proper papers.

Captain Watson argued that the Farley Mowat was a yacht and that he had been Master of the Farley Mowat for three years with the full knowledge and recognition of the Canadian government. Captain Watson produced the ship’s registry. Saleem Modak, the safety inspector for SAMSA said he did not care what the registry said and in his opinion the Farley Mowat was not a yacht.

“A yacht is a white vessel that you sit on and have drinks with your friends,” he said with a straight face.

Captain Watson could not resist and replied, “You would think that in post apartheid South Africa there would be room for a black yacht.”

Modak was not amused and ordered the ship to be placed under arrest at the request of the government of Canada. Canadian, Japanese, and South African authorities then blocked every attempt to free the vessel in an attempt to prevent it from returning to the Southern Ocean to defend the whales.

After three months of bureaucratic red tape and with the situation looking irresolvable, the Farley Mowat quietly slipped out of the Cape Town harbor, flagless and without lights, to the freedom of the Ocean.

Three weeks later, the Farley Mowat arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia to a heroes welcome. A few months later, the ship acquired a Belize flag and left for Antarctica to hunt the whalers. Under Japanese pressure, Belize pulled the flag but not before the Farley Mowat and her crew were well on their way to the Ross Sea where for the next two months they opposed the Japanese fleet without a flag becoming in effect, a genuine pirate vessel.

The Canadian government informed Captain Watson that he would be charged with the unauthorized operation of a Canadian registered commercial ship. He was told that if he pleaded guilty to the charge he would be let off with a $27,000 fine.

Captain Watson refused to pay the fine and refused to plead guilty. The Canadian Department of Transport then advised Captain Watson that if he pleaded guilty he would only have to pay $10,000 in fines.

After consultation with the lawyers, Captain Watson agreed to pay the fine because the defense would cost considerably more.

The Canadian government then further demanded that not only must the fine be paid, but Captain Watson would have to sign an affidavit saying that he knowingly and willfully violated the law as well.

This Captain Watson absolutely refused to do so, and the case was set for trial beginning the 13th through to the 21st of July, 2009.

Captain Paul Watson’s defense was that he is fully qualified to command a vessel of any size that is registered as a yacht or non-commercial vessel. Captain Watson was given the Canadian registry for the Farley Mowat in 2002 with the full knowledge by Transport Canada that he would be Master. Previously, Captain Watson had been master of the Canadian registered Sea Shepherd vessel Sirenian. Captain Watson is also a former officer in the Canadian Coast Guard and had worked on Canadian Pacific Steamships. In addition he has served as Master on all Sea Shepherd vessels from 1978 to the present during which time he commanded five voyages to Antarctica, five voyages in the ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and had acquired extensive navigational experience in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, and in the Mediterranean, Tasman, South China, Norwegian, Arabian, Caribbean, and North Seas. He has also transited the Panama Canal a dozen times and has weathered numerous storms, hurricanes, and typhoons.

Captain Watson as Master from 1978 until the present has never lost a crewmember, had a crewmember seriously injured, lost a ship, suffered a grounding, or an oil spill, and has never been convicted of any marine violation. More than 4,000 crew have sailed under Captain Watson’s command.

Faced with this information and with a heavyweight lawyer, Terry La Liberte, the government of Canada has backed down and has officially dropped the charges against Captain Watson citing lack of evidence to support their case.

They had been hoping that Captain Watson would plead guilty without a fight. They were wrong.

Captain Paul Watson retains his good record of never having a single criminal felony conviction or a conviction for a maritime related offense.

“It’s tough taking on governments,” Captain Watson said in response to the decision to drop the case against him. “But one thing I have always had faith in is that in fighting politicians and bureaucrats, the best defense is the law. Once again the law has prevailed, and once again we have proven our case that what we do on the high seas is morally and legally justified. We don’t break the law, we uphold it.”

Says defense Terry La Liberte, “I am pleased to put the Crown to strict proof of their allegations which they were unable to do. My client instructed there could be no compromise of his principled position, and we have done so successfully.”