Who is really in charge in Costa Rica?
Commentary by Captain Alex Cornelissen
About a month ago I was asked to fly to Costa Rica and meet with politicians and our local lawyer to see if we could find a solution for the insane court case Captain Watson is being dragged into. I met with the Minister of Environment and several of his staff and in a closed-door meeting we came to several agreements. One of which was that we would not talk to the press about this. To my surprise, two days later I read an article in a Costa Rican paper quoting word for word what I said in the meeting; so much for closed-door meetings with Costa Rican politicians.
Our strategy from the beginning of this case has been to try to work with the authorities in Costa Rica. Despite the desire of the vast majority of our supporters, we have not only kept quiet about a tourist boycott, we have even advised against the boycott believing we can find a solution that will help Costa Rica, Sea Shepherd and most importantly, the sharks. We have offered to return to Costa Rica and continue where we were stopped ten years ago. Our offer even went further, I personally promised we would fund and install an AIS network around Cocos Island; similar to what Sea Shepherd has done in the Galapagos. After all we have the knowledge and the experience to do so. Such a network would instantly improve control of Cocos Island National Park. But apparently there are things happening around Cocos Island that the Costa Rican government does not want the world to see.
We listened to the lies of the Varadero I crew, printed in the Costa Rican newspapers, took abuse from people who were quick to side with the poachers, and all this time we listened to the same argument that nobody should think they can be above the law.
Let us make this very clear: Captain Watson never claimed he was above the law, Sea Shepherd always operates within the law, in fact we uphold the law.
The same is the case in the Varadero I incident:
- We have hard evidence as well as witness statements from 24 crew members, proving that the Guatemalan authorities not only gave permission for Sea Shepherd to intervene against the poachers, they in fact asked them to do so. This actually means that the Varadero I was under official Guatemalan order to follow the Ocean Warrior to port. Under these conditions refusal to follow is actually a separate crime.
- We have video evidence of the collision proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Varadero I is the vessel at fault. Any maritime expert can see this.
- We have video evidence and witness statements that dispute the claim that anybody was injured on board the Varadero I.
- We have video evidence and witness statements that dispute the claim that the Varadero I was damaged during the collision.
- We have uncovered incriminating evidence against the Varadero I dating back one year before the incident. The Varadero was caught while operating illegally inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve, in fact inside of the Marine Reserve that is known for having large numbers of sharks. An area also known for repeated violations from Costa Rican ships.
- The Ocean Warrior was allowed to leave port, we never ran away from justice as some have claimed. We have the Zarpe (departure clearance) to prove this, given by the port captain in Puntarenas.
Let’s also look at some of the so-called “evidence” these poachers have brought against Captain Watson in this case:
- The original claim actually included attempted murder. I have been a mariner myself for more than 15 years and have participated in over 20 Sea Shepherd campaigns. We are a non-violent group and have never injured a person during our entire history. It would have been easy to do so because our opponents maneuver themselves dangerously close to our vessels, but we are always under instruction to avoid collisions or any other dangerous situations. Accusing us of attempted murder is a claim so far from reality that even the judge in Puntarenas realized that this had no ground whatsoever. Instead the claim “endangerment of a vessel causing injury” was made up. Obviously we object to this claim as we have hard evidence proving this is a fraud. The false injury claim was maliciously added to aggravate the charges against Captain Watson. Funny that whenever Sea Shepherd encounters fishermen, they are not the tough guys they claim to be, but instead a bunch of pathetic whiners.
- It is claimed that the Sea Shepherd crew threw so called tuna bombs at the Varadero I. First of all, we don’t throw explosives, under no condition. Secondly we don’t even have these tuna bombs on board, but no doubt the Varadero I crew did, as these are items used in fishing.
- It is claimed that the windows of the Varadero I were all knocked out by the water cannons of the Ocean Warrior. Strange because in the footage it is crystal clear that not a single window was knocked out. I can also say from experience, having sailed five years on that ship, that the water “cannons” on the Ocean Warrior had such low pressure that we couldn’t even knock a fly off the railing of our own ship, let alone the windows of a fishing vessel.
- The poachers claim they “drifted” inside Guatemalan waters due to engine trouble and were therefore 45 kilometers inside their EEZ. We had similar claims in Galapagos some time ago, until I made it clear to the Galapagos authorities that the currents were in fact moving away from land. The same goes for this area; there is NO current in this position that could cause a vessel to move 45 km into the Guatemalan EEZ. And even if such a current did exist, I repeat it doesn’t, it would be a 1-knot current at the very most and this would mean the Varadero I must have been drifting for about 30 hours. This however, is impossible as they were pulling in a line when the Ocean Warrior spotted them. Their catch was very much alive which means the line couldn’t have been in the water for more than 24 hours. They were without a doubt willfully shark finning in Guatemalan waters.
Now let’s analyze some other interesting facts as we are finding out more about these every day:
- The Japanese whaling fleet filed an injunction against Sea Shepherd (which they lost) in a Washington state court, ONE WEEK before the case against Captain Watson was mysteriously re-opened in the Costa Rican court. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
- President Chinchilla visited Japan last year, must have been a good opportunity to discuss possible scenarios on how the Costa Rican government could help Japan get their hands on Captain Watson. This ten-year-old court case must have come up. The visit took place at the exact same time as when the court case against Captain Watson mysteriously re-opened.
- Just today the press reported that Japan donated nine million dollars to Costa Rica’s National Parks. Reward money for being Tokyo’s lackey?
- The Chinchilla administration is not exactly popular in Costa Rica, due to scandals relating to numerous issues, one of which is marine issues. In fact a survey among popularity of political leaders in the Americas lists Chinchilla in last position with 26% support of the people of Costa Rica (Ecuador is first, 81% of the people support Correa). This explains why university students in San Jose asked me why on earth Sea Shepherd would want to work with a government most Costa Ricans despise.
- The $25,000 contract on Captain Watson’s life is still outstanding, and might have even been raised. Any sensible person would not want to give the opportunity for someone to cash in on this reward. This is why Captain Watson is willing to come to Costa Rica voluntarily, so he doesn’t have to wait for his trail in some Costa Rican jail. If he is extradited, he will need to spend an unknown amount of time in a place where his safety is seriously at risk.
- Captain Watson was never informed about the continuation of this court case in Costa Rica and logically didn’t think it was still an issue (it has been TEN years!), until he was arrested in Germany. Normally this case would have been judicially expired but because the Costa Rican courts considered him a fugitive since 2006(!!) the case has been suspended. Why it took SIX years before the court in Costa Rica decided to send out an international arrest warrant is an absolute mystery. Captain Watson should have also been properly notified of his required presence during a court case in 2006, but instead the court made no effort whatsoever to contact him, not that it is hard to locate him.
- Interpol did not put out an international arrest warrant for Captain Watson as they felt the request from Costa Rican did not meet with their standards. They even made the highly unusual move of posting this decision on their website, making it very clear that this demand is political. After all it is clear that Captain Watson made a lot of enemies in the political arena during his 35 years at the helm of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
- Germany does not have an extradition treaty with Costa Rica; in fact Germany has no obligation whatsoever to honor any such request from Costa Rica. Still Captain Watson was arrested in Frankfurt while he previously had traveled all over the world and no other country saw it fit to even consider the request from Costa Rica.
Despite the fact that we have an overwhelming amount of evidence in our defense and that we have tried to reason with the judges to ease up on the extradition order, Captain Watson is still treated as a criminal. Captain Watson has offered to come to Costa Rica voluntarily and defend himself in front of the court, but his request was turned down.
The poachers were NEVER prosecuted for their crimes against nature, even though the Sharkwater footage that we handed over to the courts proved without a doubt that they were engaged in a criminal operation.
You would think that Costa Rica has more important things to do than to bring up a ten-year old accusation from a bunch of poachers against a man who has done more for the protection of the oceans than any person in the history of the world.
Accusations that are based on nothing but the statements of the poachers, none of it supported by so much as a shred of actual evidence.
Costa Rica has a serious shark-finning problem and on top of that a serious drug trafficking problem. Why then, would the German government even consider extraditing Captain Watson to a country seriously challenged by organized crime and where shark finners, caught red-handedly, are released within days without even paying bail? Instead Captain Watson had to pay a bail of a quarter million Euro and has to report to the police every day. His alleged crime: following the instructions of the Guatemalan government.
One would think this is all about the Costa Rican government trying to move the country's focus away from the real problems, after all election year is coming up.
I think without a doubt that Captain Watson, even though he has not been able to go to Costa Rica for ten years now, has done more for the protection of Cocos Island than the Chinchilla administration and that must be hard to digest.