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Sea Shepherd founder skips bail in Germany


FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) - A German court has ordered environmental activist Paul Watson of the group Sea Shepherd re-arrested, saying Wednesday that he skipped bail and apparently left the country.

The 61-year-old Canadian was first arrested May 13 at Frankfurt Airport on a Costa Rican warrant that claimed he had endangered the crew of a fishing vessel a decade ago. Watson was released days later on a (EURO)250,000 ($320,000) bond and ordered to report regularly to authorities while Costa Rica's extradition request was considered.

"His attorney now says that his client informed him by telephone that he has left Germany for an unknown destination," the Hesse regional court in a statement, noting that Watson had failed to report to authorities since Sunday.

Watson's German attorney didn't respond to repeated telephone messages Wednesday. A spokeswoman for Sea Shepherd in the United States declined immediate comment.

Shortly after his arrest 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 U.S.-based 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.

Watson has a history of confrontations with whalers and fishermen.

He left Greenpeace in 1977 to set up the more action-oriented Sea Shepherd. The group has waged aggressive campaigns to protect whales, dolphins and other marine animals, prompting Japanese officials to labels its member terrorists and seek Watson's arrest for allegedly masterminding violent protests.

After three days of speculation surrounding his whereabouts, German legal counsel for Captain Paul Watson has confirmed the marine conservationist, founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and focus of the hit docu-reality TV series “Whale Wars” has departed Germany and is in an undisclosed location.

Sea Shepherd posted a statement earlier this evening that says: "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 in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. 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."

Video: Video clip from press conference regarding Paul Watson's arrest in Germany May 2012

Captain Watson had been detained in Germany for 70 days despite thousands of letters of support sent to the German Ministry of Justice from the public, celebrities, politicians and other luminaries arguing for his release.

He was arrested in Frankfurt on May 13th on a 10-year-old warrant from Costa Rica while en route to Cannes, France. He was being detained in Germany for extradition to Costa Rica for an alleged "violation of ships' traffic," which occurred during the 2002 filming of the award-winning documentary, "Sharkwater."

The specific incident took place on the high seas in Guatemalan waters, when Sea Shepherd encountered an illegal shark-finning operation run by Costa Rican vessel, the Varadero. On order of Guatemalan authorities, Sea Shepherd instructed the crew of the Varadero to cease their shark-finning activities and head back to port to be prosecuted.

Sea Shepherd maintains that while escorting the Varadero back to port, the tables were turned and a Guatemalan gunboat was dispatched to intercept the Sea Shepherd crew.

To avoid the Guatemalan gunboat, Sea Shepherd says they then set sail for Costa Rica, where the crew uncovered even more illegal shark-finning activities in the form of dried shark fins by the thousands on the roofs of industrial buildings.

Watson had been out on bail and residing in Germany following his arrest.

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