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Sea Shepherd Founder Flees And Skips Euro 250,000 Bail Germany, July 26, 12

The head of the marine conservation group left Germany "for an unspecified destination", his lawyer told a Frankfurt court yesterday, prompting an arrest warrant to be reissued.

Earlier this year Costa Rica filed an extradition request on charges stemming from a high-seas confrontation between a Sea Shepherd ship and a Costa Rican vessel over alleged illegal shark finning in 2002.

Watson, a Canadian national whose organisation is known for its aggressive attacks on Japanese whalers, was accused of "putting a ship's crew in danger".

The 61-year-old was arrested at Frankfurt airport last May and detained for a week before being released on bail after paying €250,000 and being ordered to appear before police twice a day.

Susan Hartland, Sea Shepherd's administrative director, confirmed that he had fled, but said she did not know where.

"We have reason to believe from a reliable source that, once in Costa Rica, the Japanese government may have sought extradition of Captain Watson to Japan to answer charges related to obstructing their illegal whaling activities," she said.

"We have no further information and are not in touch with him. We will do our best to provide more details as we learn more."

Watson, who was tweeting as recently as Tuesday, but made no mention of where he was or what he planned to do, has previously suggested that Japan might be "putting pressure" on Germany to carry out the extradition order.

Sea Shepherd is best known for its annual pursuit of the Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctica, using increasingly militant methods to halt the hunt, including the boarding of vessels.

This year, after setting off from Australia, the group hurled stink bombs at the boats on the high seas and used ropes to try to tangle their propellers in a series of exchanges which saw the whalers retaliate with water cannon.

The whaling fleet killed less than a third of the animals it planned to because of the sabotage attempts.

Meanwhile, Watson is facing further trouble with Maltese tuna ranchers, who recently declared they have no intention of dropping their lawsuit against against him, whose flagship Steve Irwin had freed around 800 live blue-fin tuna from a cage being transported to a Malta-based tuna pen in June 2010.

Malta-based tuna ranching company Fish & Fish, claim that the vessel had rammed the cage, causing damage to its property and endangering the lives of its employees, a claim Sea Shepherd has consistently denied, arguing that it was in fact a Maltese tug that had rammed Steve Irwin and caused the collision.

The tuna ranching firm estimated the value of the freed tuna at just over €1 million: a rough indication of the sort of prices the blue fin tuna, an endangered species, now fetches on the Japanese market, to which they would otherwise have been exported.

But Fish & Fish's efforts to sue the conservation society in the UK have so far proved unsuccessful. Mr. Justice Hamblin of the Admiralty Court threw the case out of court earlier this month, and ordered Fish & Fish to pay Watson's legal expenses, amounting to €250,000.

Dr John Refalo, legal counsel to the tuna ranchers, admitted that this was a setback, but added that the case would not stop there, after filing an appeal earlier this week against the conservationist organization.

"This was a preliminary ruling, and we are currently filing for permission to appeal - something that is not granted automatically in the British system," he told MaltaToday.

Refalo added that the case was dismissed only on a technicality: a previous attempt to sue Paul Watson (a Canadian citizen) in the United States had similarly been overturned on the grounds that the Steve Irwin was registered in the UK.

Following the latest developments, Fish & Fish are likely to pursue the case back in the United States.

"One way or another we will get him," Refalo added. "It will just take more money..."

In comments to MaltaToday, Paul Watson echoes Refalo's view that the case against Sea Shepherd would cost Fish & Fish more money - but the outcome, he adds, will not be what the tuna ranchers expect.

Watson also faces legal proceedings brought against him by the Maltese government.

Last March, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi revealed that the Maltese government has initiated legal proceedings over an interview published by New Europe.

Gonzi was replying to a parliamentary question forwarded by Nationalist backbencher Jesmond Mugliett in regards to an interview which was published on the magazine about Malta's tuna fishing industry.

In the interview published in February, Watson was quoted as saying "what is happening in Malta is that there is a whole illegal enterprise going on there with the full support of the politicians who are being bribed by these tuna fishermen."

Mugliett asked whether libel proceeding will be undertaken by the government and the Prime Minister replied in the affirmative. "Following legal advice, it has been decided to initiate libel proceedings abroad," Gonzi said.

In the interview, Sea Shepherd's founder Paul Watson delivered a scathing judgment of Malta's political class, claiming the Bluefin tuna industry has been lining MPs' pockets to sanction their allegedly illegal fishing trade.

Watson - who has led expeditions in the Mediterranean to scupper Maltese tuna ranches - referred to the Maltese tuna industry as a "whole illegal enterprise" that has the full support of the politicians "who are being bribed by these tuna fishermen".

Watson said overfishing of Bluefin tuna was making the industry richer by driving prices up as the species is driven closer to extinction, but that the EU, and Malta, were doing little to enforce conservation laws.

"The EU has all the rules and regulations that protect our oceans, however, what they do not have is enforcement. We have a lack of will on the part of governments to enforce international conservation law. They need to get out there and arrest the bastards.

"But, they are doing this because too much money is passing hands under the table going to many politicians in Europe, just like in Malta; there is no question that Maltese politicians are on the take."