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Eco-Fugitive Paul Watson Hiding In U.S.? United States, August 3, 12

Eco-fugitive Paul Watson has rammed one too many whaling ships, says a former Sea Shepherd skipper who’s done time for his own anti-whaling activities.

“I think he’s done so much of that illegal activity that it’s all starting to bite him in the ass,” said Pete Bethune, who has gone legit in his environmentalism, though he says he still respects Watson.

Bethune is suing the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, claiming he’s owed USD 500,000 for a ship he sold them that was ultimately scuttled after a collision with Japanese whalers in 2010.

Authorities are searching for Watson, the Canadian founder of the society, after he skipped bail in Germany last week, following his arrest at Costa Rica’s request over a violent 2002 confrontation with shark hunters.

Watson has said he decided to give up a USD 307,000 bond when “sympathetic sources” told him there was a deal to extradite him to Japan, where he’d likely end up in maximum security prison for a long time.

Bethune said the 62-year-old Watson “would go bananas” in a Japanese prison, so it doesn’t surprise him the eco-fugitive ran, possibly escaping by boat to the United States. “The U.S. is a very difficult country to extradite people from,” Bethune said.

Still, Bethune said Watson will also be looking to wriggle out of his predicament because Sea Shepherd isn’t nearly as effective without its figurehead.

With up to USD 10 million per year in donations, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society can throw money at keeping Watson hidden.

“At the moment, I imagine they’re earmarking a fair chunk of that to protect Paul,” Bethune said.

Bethune said Watson also has an almost fanatical following willing to run the risk of criminal charges to help the man known for attacking whaling crews with acid and crashing tuna farms.

“I wouldn’t say (Sea Shepherd) is a cult, but certainly there’s an extremely loyal group of people who are very staunch in their support of Paul Watson,” Bethune said. “It’s got a very strong support base amongst the vegan and vegetarian communities, and a lot of those people are animal rights (activists).”