Victory in Costa Rica for Paul Watson

Wednesday, 13 Mar, 2019

The Criminal Appeals Court of the Second Judicial Circuit of San José in Costa Rica ruled in favor of Captain Paul Watson, dropping all charges against him and giving closure to a 17-year legal dispute and 13-year-old international arrest warrant. 

The legal dispute began on April 20, 2002, when the vessel Ocean Warrior, under the command of Captain Watson, was heading to Costa Rica at the invitation of their government. Sea Shepherd had been invited to sign a collaboration agreement for the protection of the world-renowned marine sanctuary, Cocos Island.

The year prior, Sea Shepherd provided the Cocos Island National Park Rangers with equipment and a ship to arrest and confiscate an Ecuadorian-flagged vessel, the San Jose, for illegally fishing in the protected area of the island.

In 2002, the Ocean Warrior ran into the Costa Rican vessel Varadero 1, whose crew, they discovered, were illegally finning sharks in Guatemalan territorial waters. After the Varadero 1 ignored several requests to cease the continuation of this practice, Captain Watson received authorization from the Guatemalan naval authorities to escort the vessel to the nearest port for arrest.

Following this incident, the crew of the Varadero 1 filed several baseless accusations against Captain Watson. This created a legal battle that would gain great notoriety and world attention, generating a series of criticisms against Costa Rica for the legal action taken against one of the most world’s most respected environmental activists. The entire incident was filmed and featured in the film Sharkwater by late Canadian director Rob Stewart.

Throughout this legal dispute, Sea Shepherd remained committed to the protection of the marine species in the Cocos Island marine reserve and the Osa Peninsula, especially the various shark species that are most vulnerable to illegal fishing and finning.

Sea Shepherd’s offer of sophisticated vessel-tracking systems, fast patrol vessels and equipment was impacted by the criminal case against Captain Watson. This ends today, as the current government and authorities have given clear signs of support and interest to advance the cooperation agreements with Sea Shepherd.

Captain Watson released the following statement praising the work of his team, his attorney Abraham Stern, and the government and people of Costa Rica: “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 Rodríguez Echandi. Now it is 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."

"During all of these years, my sincere desire has always been to protect, together with Costa Rican people, the beautiful natural sanctuary that is the Isla del Coco, and other endangered areas linked to the Marine Corridor of the Eastern Tropical Pacific like the Golfo Dulce and the Osa Peninsula. I hope that, now, with this dismissal of these charges against me, we can make it a reality.”

- Captain Paul Watson
Costa Rica's Environmental Minister Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Echandi and Paul Watson.
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