Kudos to Costa Rica for having finally ended a two-decade squabble with conservationist Captain Paul Watson of the nonprofit conservation organization, the Sea Shepherd. Costa Rica’s Criminal Appeals Court of the Second Judicial Circuit of San Jose has ruled in favor of Captain Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, dropping all charges against him, thereby shutting down a 17-year dispute and a 13-year international arrest warrant for the capture of the Captain himself. Bravo.
The incident which precipitated the dispute between Watson and Costa Rica occurred on April 20th, 2002. Watson was aboard the vessel the Ocean Warrior, en route to Costa Rica at the invitation of the Costa Rican government. The Sea Shepherd was about to sign a collaboration agreement with Costa Rica for protection of Cocos Island, a Costa Rican national treasure of wildlife and maritime beauty. In 2001, Sea Shepherd had gifted the Cocos Island National Park Rangers a ship and equipment to arrest and confiscate the San Jose, an Ecuadorian flagged vessel illegally fishing in Cocos Island’s protected waters.
The Ocean Warrior came upon a Costa Rican vessel, Verdadero1, and discovered that they were illegally finning sharks in Guatemalan waters. Shark finning is a barbaric practice of chopping off shark fins to sell to mainly Asian countries for soup or medicinal purposes. The sharks are then tossed back into the ocean, usually still alive. This is a very lucrative crime for these fishermen. Guatemala authorized Watson and his crew to escort Verdadero1 to the nearest port for detention and arrest. Verdadero1 refused to comply, and Watson retreated for the safety of his ship and crew.
The stand-off was filmed in its entirety by Canadian documentary film director Rob Stewart and later released in 2006 in the movie “Sharkwater”. Despite this clear proof of Watson’s version of the events, Costa Rica continued to pursue him and the Sea Shepherd for 17 years, 13 of which had Watson under an international arrest warrant, unable to return to Costa Rica without risking arrest.
Captain Watson has expressed his gratitude to Costa Rica for dropping the charges against him. He says, “Thanks to the determination and insistence of our legal defense team, this difficulty is now in the past. I want to thank the people of Costa Rica for their solidarity, the equanimity of their current government, and especially the understanding and support of the Minister of the Environment, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez Echandi. Now it’s time to look ahead and resume the conservation efforts that our organization and thousands of people make every day around the world to defend the environment.”