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Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Sea Shepherd Dilemma Down Under

Awakening Earth

By: Captain Paul Watson

Way back in October 2007, I had urged thousands of Australians to vote for Kevin Rudd and Peter Garrett’s Labor Party. Why? Because they promised to get tough on illegal Japanese whaling. They promised to take Japan to court. They promised to send a ship down to the Southern Ocean to monitor the illegal activities. They had severely criticized the former Howard government for not doing enough.

Since then Rudd and Garrett have demonstrated that they have done far less for the whales than former Environment Minister Ian Campbell had done.

Under Campbell, Australia was the toughest voice at the annual meetings of the International Whaling Commission. Under Garrett, the whales have become a very minor concern. Under Campbell, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was given encouragement and support. Under Garrett, we have been disparaged, and now we are being harassed as the Rudd government seeks to sabotage Sea Shepherd efforts to defend the whales.

Peter Garrett does not want our ship the Steve Irwin to return to the Southern Ocean in December. Why? Because the government of Japan has requested that the Australian government intervene to prevent us from returning to the Southern Oceans.

Legally, they can’t stop the Steve Irwin from departing for the Antarctic coast but it appears they believe they have found a way to sabotage our mission.

And thus I, and my 1st officer, Peter Hammarstedt of Sweden, have had our visas to enter Australia cancelled and our new applications denied. My Bosun, Dan Bebawi of the U.K. was ordered off his plane at London Heathrow and was told that his visa was no longer valid. After a week and an expensive re-issue of his ticket, he was given a limited visa.

The story is not so simple for Peter Hammarstedt and I.

The Immigration department is now demanding that Peter and I provide police reports from Norway, Canada, and the United States in order to proceed further on the visa application. Once these reports are received, we will be informed of additional requirements.

In other words, they will make us jump through bureaucratic hoops for months if need be to prevent us from re-joining our ship in Australia.

I do not have a single felony conviction on my record from any nation in the world. There is not a single warrant out for my arrest. Japan has not pressed charges. Our flag nation of the Netherlands has not charged us with anything. I have entered and reentered Australia dozens of times without incident, but now only a few weeks after Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith was given an ultimatum by Japan to stop Sea Shepherd, Peter Hammarstedt and I have found that our return to our own ship has been blocked without any reason given.

This year our campaign has been named Operation Waltzing Matilda in recognition of the fact that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has received overwhelming support from the people of Australia.

Australia has been our base for operations against Japan’s illegal whaling operations since 2005 and Australians have demonstrated that Australia is the most passionate nation on Earth when it comes to defending the great whales from the illegal and viciously cruel whaling activities of the Japanese whaling fleet.

Unfortunately, this support from the people for the whales is not reflected in the actions of the government of Australia.

The Rudd government has turned its back on all the “get tough on whaling promises” they made before the election and has now become more submissively loyal to the demands of the Japanese government than to the concerns of the Australian people that elected them.

The Steve Irwin left Brisbane this month on a tour of Australia to raise support for Operation Waltzing Matilda. Under the command of Dutch captain Alex Cornelissen, the ship is presently berthed at Circular Quay in Sydney across from the Sydney Opera House.

The Steve Irwin is scheduled to visit Melbourne and Hobart before reaching Fremantle, the port where the ship will depart in December for the coast if Antarctica.

Unfortunately, I cannot be onboard my own ship during this tour until a visa is granted, something that was simply routinely granted prior to last month. I am now being informed by the Australian Visa office that this “harassment” is routine. They need to establish that I am of “good character” prior to issuing a visa.

Of course, the Australian Federal Police could and most likely already have obtained all the records on me that they require. Despite this, I need to spend hundreds of dollars and weeks of time tracking down the police reports on my “character.”

Strangely enough, I have found that it is easier to get a police report if you have an actual criminal record than if you have no record at all. Since I have never been convicted of any crime in the United States, I have been told that I need an F.B.I. report saying that I have never been convicted of any crime in the United States. This requires being fingerprinted and filling out a lengthy report requesting a document stating that no police criminal record exists. If this is considered “routine” then no one would be visiting Australia at all.

Japan is mobilizing every bureaucratic measure they can to prevent us from engaging their whale poaching fleet this year. They are leaning on the Dutch government to strike our flag. They are leaning on the Australian government to intervene. They have made requests of the United States and Canada to prevent Sea Shepherd and I from continuing our efforts to defend the whales.

Despite this, we are on target for departure for early December and I will be there, visa or no visa. Peter Hammarstedt will also be there. No power short of a bullet will prevent us from returning to the Southern Ocean in December to once again cut the illegal Japanese quota in half and to negate their illicit profits.

Operation Waltzing Matilda is on target and with the Steve Irwin joined this year by the Earthrace, we will mount the most ambitious and most aggressive effort to date to obstruct the slaughter of the whales in the Southern Ocean.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is organizing a petition drive of Australians to support the character requirements for Peter Hammarstedt and myself.

We have less than two months to secure the visas to allow us to take command of the only ship in the world that can save the lives of hundreds of defenseless and endangered whales in the Southern Ocean.

I am confident that the Australian people will send their voice to Canberra to support us and the whales. Rudd and Garrett need to be reminded that it was not the Japanese whalers who voted them into power, it was Australian citizens, and Australians want the bloody slaughter in the Southern Ocean ended.

Steve Irwin and Sydney Opera House

News Article from the Melbourne Age

Whale activist hits visa hurdle
October 5, 2009

THE Federal Immigration Department has cracked down on Sea Shepherd's Paul Watson, demanding to know the anti-whaling group leader's police and court records as it reviews his visa.

Until now, authorities had let Captain Watson, who holds a US passport, come and go from his Australian-....​based ship on a tourist visa.

The department has told him he must satisfy exhaustive new good-character requirements to get a business visa.

An email exchange shows the Australian Embassy in Washington wants Captain Watson's bill of legal health from Norway, where his group claims it sank whaling ships.

Captain Watson told an embassy official last week that he suspected serious political motivations were behind the demands for his police, court and criminal records.

''I am not wanted on any warrants,'' he said. ''I have never received a felony conviction.''

Coincidentally,....​ stalled International Whaling Commission peace talks resume today, in which Australia is trying to persuade Japan to end its Southern Ocean whaling.

Japan has repeatedly asked the Rudd Government to move against Sea Shepherd over clashes with its whaling fleet in the Antarctic.

Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada renewed the call for action when he met his Australian counterpart Stephen Smith recently.

This year, the Australian Federal Police raided the Sea Shepherd's ship, Steve Irwin, in Hobart, seizing records and videos at Japan's request.

An AFP investigation is continuing, and Australia told the International Whaling Commission meeting in July it could lead to court action.

As Sea Shepherd opens its campaign for the Antarctic summer, the Steve Irwin is due to arrive at Circular Quay, Sydney, today from Brisbane, where damage received in collisions with Japanese whaling ships was repaired.

Captain Watson expected to take part in a tour of capital cities with the ship, before leaving from Perth for the Antarctic, but said he would not get a visa in time to join the tour, if he got one at all.

He said the ship's first officer, Peter Hammarsted, of Sweden, also had to go through criminal checks, and its bosun, Briton Dan Bebawi, was initially refused entry.

''Even Japan has not charged me with a crime, so I do not see how there can be any other reason for this except for politics,'' Captain Watson said.




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