Paul Watson, founder of marine conservation organization Sea Shepherd stepped down today as Captain of the Steve Irwin and director of the group after nine years of fighting to stop the Japanese whaling industry in the Southern Ocean.
As the Sea Shepherd fleet prepares to blockade Japanese whaling vessels in the Antarctic, Watson plans to remain on board to document the voyage but has handed over the reins of the group for this year's campaign to former Australian Green Party founder Bob Brown.
Sea Shepherd Australia director Jeff Hansen said the change in leadership had to do with Watson's recent legal problems.
Watson, who recently returned to the Sea Shepherd fleet, had spent the past several months evading Interpol. Watson fled from Germany earlier this year after being arrested on request of the Costa Rican government which is pursuing him on a warrant that claims he endangered a fishing vessel crew in 2002.
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Watson maintains that the charges against him are politically motivated and can be traced back the Japanese government, who would like to see him out of the world's oceans.
"We obviously always want to stay within the law in everything that we do, and in order for us to stay within the law Sea Shepherd Australia is taking over the leadership of this campaign, the management of this campaign and Paul will step down from the board in Australia and in America," Hansen told Agence-France Presse.
"I am honored to serve the great whales of the Southern Ocean and Sea Shepherd in this way,” said Brown. "My admiration for Paul Watson is inversely proportional to the Japanese government’s anger at Sea Shepherd's success at preventing the slaughter of almost 4,000 whales in recent years,” he added.