The Scandalous Crime of Saving Sharks In Shady Costa Rica
Ten years ago, the Sea Shepherd ship Ocean Warrior and her crew intervened against an illegal shark finning operation in Guatemalan waters by the Costa Rican long liner (and previously convicted poaching vessel) the Varadero I. In April 2002 the Varadero I was caught 50 miles inside Guatemalan waters. Rob Stewart filmed and documented their shark finning operations and Sea Shepherd received permission from the government of Guatemala to intervene to stop their illegal activities. The crew of the Ocean Warrior did so without causing any injuries and without causing any damage to the Varadero I.
That incident occurred only two days before Sea Shepherd was to sign an agreement with Costa Rica to assist the rangers of the Cocos Island National Park. The intervention against the Varadero I could not have been ignored. What Sea Shepherd discovered was a blatant, illegal act of shark finning and poaching in Guatemalan territorial waters.
Despite this, the Sea Shepherd crew did not act in haste and patiently waited for permission to intervene before acting to defend the sharks. With permission granted, the shark killing was shut down. Despite this, and the fact that the incident was documented for the making of what came to be the award-winning film "Sharkwater," the poachers complained to the police in Costa Rica that their lives were threatened. This complaint without evidence or documentation caused the scuttling of the agreement between Sea Shepherd and the rangers.
Sea Shepherd had already made some powerful enemies in Puntarenas amongst the shark finners. Since 1989 Sea Shepherd crews had been disrupting poaching activities in the waters around Cocos Island. We had supplied the rangers with equipment including generators, rifles, boots, supplies, and a radar system. In 2001 we had seized the Ecuadorian longliner San Jose and turned it over to the rangers for prosecution. It became the first poaching vessel ordered to be confiscated by the Costa Rican courts. The conviction was based on the evidence in film and statements and GPS positions provided by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
The Varadero I was not some innocent fishing vessel. On April 8th, a year before the incident in Guatemalan waters, the Varadero I was caught inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve near Darwin Island. She was fined $4,000 and released. At the time $4,000 was the maximum fine in the Galapagos for poaching. She had been caught by the Coast Guard shortly after the Sea Shepherd patrol vessel Sirenian began patrolling the National Park. The crew of the Varadero I knew who Sea Shepherd was when the encounter took place yet they chose to ignore the request to desist from their illegal fishing operations. It cannot be stressed enough that the Ocean Warrior did not act against the Varadero I until permission from the Guatemalan government was received.
The Ocean Warrior departed Costa Rica, with permission from Costa Rica, and nothing was heard of the incident again until Captain Paul Watson landed at Frankfurt airport on May 13th, 2012, a decade later. That was when he discovered that Costa Rica had issued an extradition demand. This demand had been dismissed by Interpol for being politically motivated. Yet for some reason still unexplained, the extradition order was enforced by Germany and he found himself detained.
Over a month later Captain Watson remains a prisoner in Germany, unable to return home as Costa Rica makes their case for his extradition, an exercise that could take up to three more months. Sea Shepherd is hopeful the German judges will look closely at this case and will realize just how unusual it is. An incident a decade ago in which no one was injured and no property was damaged, where Sea Shepherd acted under the authority of Guatemala, where the entire incident was documented and 25 witnesses on the Ocean Warrior are able to counter the allegations of a couple of poachers with a conviction record for illegal fishing. No notification of charges given, just an extradition order.
The fishermen have indicated they would drop the charges in exchange for $250,000 U.S. and that, in our book, amounts to extortion. A quarter of a million dollars in compensation, for what? For interfering with their illegal activities!
The rangers at Cocos Island had informed Captain Watson that the shark finners of Puntarenas had offered $25,000 to anyone who could kill him. They even joked about collecting it themselves but with a laugh, much to Captain Watson`s relief at the time. And what better place to collect on a bounty than in a Costa Rican prison? We have been told that the bounty has risen, but we cannot confirm it as fact. A quick look at Sea Shepherd accomplishments in the Galapagos Islands might illustrate the reasons that the shark finners are angry. Since 2000, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Galapagos National Park Service, and the Ecuadorian Police have had a cooperative contractual relationship. During that time we have assisted in confiscating more than a hundred thousand shark fins and other wildlife species such as illegally caught lobster and sea cucumbers. We have also assisted in capturing Costa Rican fishing vessels operating inside the boundaries of the Galapagos National Park Marine Reserve.
In addition to the arrest of the Varadero I in 2001, the list of Costa Rican vessels includes:
• B/P Cash Flow I: industrial fishing vessel (long line), caught (by Park vessel Guadalupe River) fishing inside the GMR on April 23rd, 1999 full of shark fins. Was taken to Puerto Ayora and escaped the same night. Position of capture: N/W of Isabela Island.
• B/P Maria Canela II: industrial fishing vessel (long line), caught (by the Sirenian) fishing inside the GMR on March 22nd, 2001 full of shark fins. They went through an administrative process, were fined $4,000 and the ship was confiscated and scheduled to be sold. On May 31st, 2002, they escaped and went back to Costa Rica. Position of capture: Wolf Island
• B/P Varadero I: long liner caught (by coast guard ship, LAE 5 de Noviembre) illegally inside the GMR on April 8th, 2001. Paid a $4,000 fine and were released. Position of capture:Darwin Island
• B/P Indio I: industrial fishing vessel (long line), caught (by the Sirenian) fishing inside the GMR on July 15th, 2001 full of shark fins. They went through an administrative process, were fined $4,000 and lost their ship. Position of capture: Darwin Island
• B/P Kendy: Long liner caught (by the Sirenian and Farley Mowat), Illegal entry into the GMR on June 10th 2004. Was charged with illegal entry. Position of capture: Darwin Island
• B/P Hipocampus II: Long liner caught (by the Guadalupe River) Illegal entry into the GMR on May 31st, 2006. Was charged with illegal entry. Position of capture: Wolf Island
• B/P Maria Nella II: industrial fishing vessel (long line), caught (by coast guard ship, LG-41 “11 de Abril”) fishing inside the GMR on April 6th 2007. Was charged. Position of capture: West of Fernandino Island
• Three vessels: Atlantis III, Aleta I and Aleta II; Illegal fishing inside the Ecuadorian EEZ as well as suspected entry into GMR on April 24th 2007. They were all charged with violation of the LOREG (Special Law of Galapagos) and fishery regulations. Position of capture: about 100 miles West of Isabela Island
• Two vessels: B/P Cachalotte II and B/P Cachalotte III; Illegal entry into Ecuadorian EEZ on June 16th 2009. Charged by the coast guard for being inside the Ecuadorian EEZ without authorization. Position of capture: not specified
Sea Shepherd assisted in the placing of a surveillance barge near Wolf and Darwin Island which successfully deterred poaching activities in these two more remote islands of the Galapagos. In addition, Sea Shepherd has provided a canine unit (trained to sniff out shark fins), complete communication systems for the police, as well as the agricultural inspection service, a patrol boat, legal and law enforcement assistance, and an AIS system to cover the entire Galapagos Marine Reserve.
In recognition of our efforts in the Galapagos, the vice President of Ecuador awarded Captain Watson the Amazon Peace Prize in 2007. However the recognition in Costa Rica is not so cordial. We have cost the poachers a great deal of money and the poachers have a great deal of influence in Costa Rica. Last year Costa Rica exported over 30 tons of shark fins and that amount of contraband brings in a great deal of money and that much money can buy a great deal of influence.
Captain Watson has offered to come to Costa Rica to stand trial with his evidence and witnesses, if the extradition order is dropped. We have a good case and it is not the trial that we are concerned about. Our concern is that an extradition will force Captain Watson into a Costa Rican prison for up to a year until a trial date is set. The courts have refused this offer. They want him held in prison and that, of course ,is the perfect place for someone to collect the bounty on his head.
The Costa Rican shark finners don`t want a trial. They want an execution!
Please continue to contact the German Minister of Justice to free Captain Watson.
Federal Minister of Justice
Platz der Republik
Telephone 030 - 227 751 62
Fax 030 - 227 764 02
E-Mail: [email protected]
Federal Ministry of Justice
10117 Berlin, Germany
Telephone: +49 (030) 18 580-0
Telefax: +49 (030) 18 580-9525