CANBERRA, Australia — The founder of Sea Shepherd left the environmental group's fleet of anti-whaling ships before they docked in Australia on Wednesday, though the government says it has no reason to arrest him at the moment.
Three Sea Shepherd ships docked at the southern port of Williamstown after weeks of harassing Japanese whalers in the Antarctic Ocean during the annual whaling season.
The Washington state-based organization, which the United States' largest federal court last month labeled "pirates," said Watson, a 62-year-old Canadian, had left the fleet before it reached Australia for fear of arrest. His whereabouts have not been disclosed.
Interpol, the France-based international police organization, said on its website that Watson is wanted by Japan for "hooliganism/vandalism/damage, life and health." He is also wanted by Costa Rica for allegedly endangering a fishing vessel crew in 2002. Watson fled from Germany in July after being arrested at the behest of the Costa Rican government.
But Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus told Parliament that Watson would not have been arrested on setting foot on Australia because no Australian arrest warrant existed.
Dreyfus would not say whether Japan or any other country had requested his extradition – a necessary step before an arrest warrant is issued.
"It is a longstanding Australian government policy ... not to disclose whether Australia has received an extradition request from another country," Dreyfus said.
"The Australian government does not provide assurances about whether a person will be subject to extradition proceedings either now or in the future," he added.
Australia is a vocal critic of Japanese whaling in the Antarctic. Dreyfus said he expects Australia's case that whaling violates Japan's international obligations will be heard this year by the International Court of Justice in the Hague.
The Sea Shepherd vessels will remain in Williamstown for several months while they complete repairs. One of those ships, the Bob Barker, collided with a Japanese whaler last month.
Also last month, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reinstated a lawsuit by Japanese whalers against Watson and Sea Shepherd. The court called the activists pirates and said the whalers were likely to win an order banning Sea Shepherd from disrupting the annual whale hunt off Antarctica.
Watson contends the Costa Rican charges were filed because of pressure from the Japanese government, and that he eventually would have been extradited to Japan if he had remained in custody.
Shortly after Watson was arrested in Germany in May, Sea Shepherd issued a statement saying Watson was filming a documentary at the time of the alleged incident, which took place in Guatemalan waters in 2002.
The group said it encountered an illegal shark finning operation run by a Costa Rican ship, the Varadero, and told the crew to stop and head to port to be prosecuted. The crew accused Watson's team of trying to kill them by ramming their ship.
On setting out on his latest anti-whaling campaign in December, Watson said he was unlikely to return to the United States because American authorities would likely turn him over to Japan.