Under new brass, it isn’t even the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society any more
SOUTH WOODSTOCK, Vermont––Japanese and Russian whales, Atlantic Canadian sealers, and oceans of marine poachers in other parts of the world never succeeded in sinking Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, but the organization he founded in 1977 on September 3, 2022 scuttled Watson at dockside.
Posted Watson, 71, to Facebook in an “Open message to Sea Shepherd supporters, “This morning I received an email informing me that the board of directors of Sea Shepherd Global dismissed me from the Global Board.”
Pushed overboard because he didn’t walk the plank
Said the message, signed by Sea Shepherd Global chief executive Alex Cornelissen, a 20-year Sea Shepherd member and frequent vessel captain, “I am sorry to inform you that based on the conversations that we’ve had, and the legal issues between you and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, we asked you to step down from the board.
“Since you have not complied with that request,” Cornelissen said, “the majority of the Global board has decided that it is a conflict of interest for you to remain as a director on the board of Sea Shepherd Global; and has therefore reached the decision that you are no longer a director of Sea Shepherd Global.”
Decision by Pritam Singh
Explained Watson, “It all stems from a decision by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society president Pritam Singh to change the focus and the direction of Sea Shepherd in the USA.
“No more direct action, no more controversial campaigns, and no more confrontations with poachers.”
In June 2022, Watson continued, “I said that I could not support this radical change in priorities nor could I participate in it. I was told that I was an employee,” paid $224,125 in total 2020 compensation, according to IRS Form 990, “and I had to do what I was told.
“In response I resigned,” from the U.S. arm of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society,” Watson narrated.
“Legally threatened me” says Watson
The Sea Shepherd Conservation responded, said Watson, “by removing my picture, bio and history from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society web site, and legally threatened me to not use the logo I designed or the name Sea Shepherd that I created. This included not being able to post pictures of myself in a Sea Shepherd shirt or with the Sea Shepherd flag. I was also told that I could not communicate with supporters, nor speak with the media, under threat of a lawsuit.
“My official Facebook page was blocked for trademark violations,” Watson charged, “because I had a picture of myself with a Sea Shepherd shirt in front of a Sea Shepherd flag. After a month that page is still blocked to postings by myself.
“I thought that Sea Shepherd Global would support me and I urged people to continue to support Global,” Watson added, “but under threat of lawsuits,” Watson said, Sea Shepherd Global on September 1, 2022 instead aligned itself with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (U.S.)
Objected to fleet changes
“I don’t wish to attack Sea Shepherd Global,” Watson declared. “I am in 100% support of Global ship operations, crew and campaigns. I have no complaints about Alex Cornelissen or Peter Hammarstedt,” chair of Sea Shepherd Australia.
“What they are doing on the sea is awesome and important,” Watson emphasized. “The ships operating off Africa, in the Baltic, in the Mediterranean and Australia need to be doing what they are doing, the way they have been doing it.
“The problem lies with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (U.S.),” charged Watson. “They have scrapped the White Holly, the John Paul DeJoria, and the Sharpie. They have sold the Brigitte Bardot and have plans to sell the Martin Sheen,” all vessels used extensively in efforts against poaching in the Sea of Cortez that threatens the survival of the highly endangered vaquita whale and the also endangered totoaba fish.
“They have purchased the Sharkwater against my advice,” Watson fumed, “and they plan to use it as a comfortable platform for scientists to do research.”
Originally the Senshu Maru, a Japanese fishing vessel built in 1997, the 134-foot Sharkwater was purchased by the shark conservation organization Fins Attached in 2017 and renamed in honor of Canadian documentary film maker Rob Stewart.
Stewart died in a January 31, 2017 diving accident while filming a sequel to his 2006 award-winning documentary Sharkwater.
Singh allegedly dropped vegan food policy
“Working with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society under its present leadership,” Watson said, “means being associated with an entity that is not what Sea Shepherd is meant to be. It will only serve to taint Global with the excessive salaries, the non-vegan ships, the aggressive marketing of merchandise, and non-confrontational new direction the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (U.S.) is going.
“I have established the Captain Paul Watson Foundation in the USA to continue the work I have been doing since 1977,” Watson concluded, leaving unclear how exactly he can do this with, as yet, no ships, no fundraising mechanism, and severely restricted ability to use the emblems and imagery associated with his work since 1971, when he became one of the seven founding members of Greenpeace.
Similar happened to Watson at Greenpeace
Watson is far from the first founder of a major animal advocacy organization to be made to walk the plank, or simply be chucked overboard, after his presence became problematic to the fundraisers and bean-counters controlling the board.
Indeed it happened to Watson himself in 1977, whose June 25, 1975 confrontation with Russian whalers off the California coast helped to make Greenpeace a household word.
Less than two years later Watson was forced out of an active role in Greenpeace for seizing a Newfoundland sealer’s club and throwing it into the water.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society originated out of that split.
Watson had worked with Singh for 20 years
This time the split developed between Watson and multi-millionaire real estate developer Pritam Singh, 72, a Sea Shepherd Conservation Society supporter for more than 30 years and involved in the organization for about 20 years.
With wife Ann Johnston, Singh participated in real estate transactions reportedly beneficial to Watson personally, as well as to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, as early as 2003.
Singh in 2014 became Watson’s hand-picked choice to take over the day-today direction of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
Says Singh’s own personal biographical statement, “He is the founder and president of the Singh group of companies, which is today the leading hotel, development and management company in Key West and the Florida Keys.”
Who is Pritam Singh?
According to a December 11, 1989 profile by Richard Conniff for Time, “One is unsure which jarring and inapposite piece of [Singh’s] biography best begins to explain him: That he is a former Students for a Democratic Society organizer who is building a Ritz-Carlton hotel? Or that he is a developer whose fondest wish is to run away with Sea Shepherd and ram whaling ships? Perhaps that he is a Massachusetts-born Sikh of French-Canadian extraction, in a turban and a Ralph Lauren polo shirt?
“Born Paul LaBombard,” Conniff recited, “he ran away from his working-class family, smoked dope and organized a high school SDS chapter. Lacking money for college, he spent two winters camping out and gathering shells for a living in Key West. He was arrested at the May 1971 antiwar demonstrations in Washington D.C.
“Afterward he sought spiritual growth in a Sikh ashram in Massachusetts, where he remained for five years before revolting against the power-hungry leader. In 1979 he borrowed $7,500, started rehabbing buildings in New England, and prospered.”
Science article flushed split into the open
While Singh’s business career has often been controversial, his Sea Shepherd Conservation Society role was mostly behind the scenes and quiet, until Science online news editor David Grimm on June 30, 2022 posted an article headlined “Sea change: Can former pirates help scientists study troubled waters?”
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Grimm revealed, “has just hired its first director of science and begun recruiting researchers from across the globe.”
Under Paul Watson, summarized Grimm, “Sea Shepherd crews operated like vigilantes in the name of conservation. They dropped spiky steel ‘net rippers’ onto the ocean floor to tear up trawling nets, lobbed smoke bombs onto boat decks, and threw rancid butter to taint whale meat. From 1979 to 1994, Watson claims his group sank five whaling ships and scuttled two more.
“The campaigns, chronicled in the TV series Whale Wars, disrupted illegal fishing, dolphin hunts, and whaling around the globe,” Grimm recounted. “But by the early 2010s, Interpol had declared Watson an internationally wanted fugitive and a U.S. federal court labeled his crew ‘pirates.’
“Critics also charged that the group’s tactics had largely backfired,” Grimm mentioned, “bolstering pro-whaling sentiment in places like Japan and Iceland.”
Singh brought marine mammalogists Roger Payne, 87, and Diana Reiss, 74, to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society board.
“By the summer of 2014,” Singh told Grimm, “we were re-evaluating how best to accomplish our mission of protecting marine wildlife. It required a complete change of direction in terms of culture and approach.”
Bob Barker chased Thunder
Wrote Grimm, “The Sea Shepherd movement turned more of its focus toward overfishing and began to collaborate with foreign governments to help them monitor their waters. A major turning point came in 2015 when Sea Shepherd Global’s Bob Barker—a former whaling ship painted with shark jaws on the bow—chased an illegal fishing vessel, Thunder, for 110 days and 10,000 nautical miles. The pursuit, the longest in maritime history, ended with the scuttling of the trawler and the arrest of its captain.”
The pursuit was actually not much different from previous Sea Shepherd pursuits of Japanese whalers in Antarctic waters, but, said Grimm, “A U.S. Navy report later called the campaign a ‘game changer’” for Sea Shepherd because “It was now operating with nation states in a legitimate protection of fisheries,” succeeding “in countering illegal fishing where private maritime security companies had failed.”
Paynes in behind
In fact, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society had already been supplying maritime anti-poaching support to the government of Ecuador in the Galapagos archipelago since 1999.
Continued Grimm, “The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society added more ships to its fleet and launched a campaign of what Singh calls ‘radical collaboration,’ inking agreements with a number of Latin American countries to fight poaching and overfishing.”
Hired in October 2021 as “the first director of science,” Grimm mentioned, was John Payne, son of Roger Payne.
“If Paul [Watson] had asked, I would have said no,” John Payne told Grimm. “Their confrontational approach wasn’t a good match for my skill set.
“I object to the way a lot of animal rights and conservation organizations are careless with facts,” Payne added. “I wanted to help, and I wanted to make sure what we said was accurate.”
“I have ceased my employment & cut all ties”
Watson seethed for almost a month before responding.
“It is with great relief that as of July 27, 2022,” Watson finally posted to Facebook, “I have ceased my employment and cut all ties with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (U.S).
“Over the last few years,” Watson told followers, “I have been slowly marginalized from the organization that I created. I was removed from the board of directors, my advice ignored, my close associates terminated, and directors who supported me were removed. I was reduced to being a paid figurehead, denied the freedom to organize campaigns and the freedom to express the strong opinions that I have held for decades, opinions and campaigns that have shaped Sea Shepherd.
“The current board,” Watson charged, “seeks to turn our vessels away from confronting poachers who prey on endangered species and instead seeks to turn our fleet into non-controversial research vessels.
“Research should not be our priority”
“Research has always been a part of Sea Shepherd efforts,” Watson acknowledged, “but it has not and should not be our priority. What we have provided is fearless leadership to intervene against poachers on the high seas, to document and to stop illegal acts that would otherwise go unnoticed and unchallenged.”
Hints of an even deeper split in progress emerged in local reportage from South Woodstock, Vermont, longtime home of Pritam Singh, headquarters of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (U.S.) since 2014, and coincidentally the home of Paul Watson too in recent years.
Profiled Alicia Freese for Seven Days Vermont on June 25, 2014, when Watson made his first public appearance in South Woodstock, “He’s been land-bound since December 2012, when Japan succeeded in bringing an injunction against him and Sea Shepherd USA, preventing both the man and the organization from approaching within 500 feet of their ships. Fifteen months later, the International Court of Justice deemed Japan’s whaling trips illegal, but Watson said he still had to cede his spot at the organization’s helm out of legal necessity.
“Sea Shepherd is a movement, not a man or an organization”
“In response,” Freese said, “the group has been cultivating international offshoots. Each affiliate is legally distinct by design — so one lawsuit can’t bring down the whole organization.
The overarching message: Sea Shepherd is a movement, not a man or an organization. And that “movement” has an operating budget of roughly $12 million, Watson said.”
Updated the Vermont Standard on August 3, 2022, “Arrived outside the Sea Shepherd office on Central Street in Woodstock, Watson said he has given up his lease on the office.
“Meanwhile, Pritam Singh said in an interview with The Standard that he suspected the resignation stemmed from a ‘misunderstanding,’ adding, ‘He feels we are not excited to do the kind of work he did in the past.’”
“Our founder took a substantial step back”
Anonymously responded Singh on August 6, 2022 to Watson’s July 27, 2022 resignation statement, or someone speaking for Singh, “Our founder took a substantial step back from SSCS management in 2014, and in 2019 reduced his role to primarily archiving the organization’s history. Along with Paul Watson, we support the work of all Sea Shepherd Global efforts around the world.”
The statement then segued into an announcement of the July 8 2022 acquisition of the Sharkwater, “now the largest ship in the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society fleet,” but added at apparent cost of scrapping or selling five of the older Sea Shepherd vessels, as Watson detailed in his September 3, 2022 resignation statement.
Longtime Sea Shepherd Conservation Society insiders began offering their perspectives via social media on August 28, 2022.
Perhaps most revealing was that of Haans Siver, a veteran of a dozen campaigns at sea with the Sea Shepherds, over as many years.
“The last campaign I crewed in Mexico, as first officer on the MV Sharpie,” Siver said, “has raised two major issues for me. Firstly, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has moved away from the guiding principles of Sea Shepherd, and secondly, the method that they have chosen to undertake these changes to me is dishonest, underhanded, and not in line with the culture of transparency that kept me coming back year after year.
“This is what I know and saw with my own eyes during my time on the Sharpie from May 27 2022 to July 11, 2022,” Siver said.
The Mexican Navy “never came out”
Supposedly the Mexican Navy had taken over the role of actively interdicting suspected totoaba and vaquita poachers, leaving the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in a non-confrontational observation role, but “We called the Navy on a number of occasions,” Siver reported, “and to my very big surprise, they never came out to retrieve the nets.
“There were also two occasions where I found nets drifting in the water when we were on our way to and from Puerto Penasco. The nets were probably 500 meters long and all I could do was go around them. You see, we have been restricted in our direct action and we are no longer allowed to pull nets in.”
Eventually, Siver said, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society “called a meeting with all the crew from the Sharpie, the John Paul De Joria, the Farley Mowat, and the Sharkwater, on the back deck of the Sharkwater. There were about 40 crew from all four ships. We were told about the new direction SSCS will be going in.
“Marine Protection Alliance”
“Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will be changing its name to Marine Protection Alliance,” Siver revealed. “We were told Sea Shepherd has such a bad name that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is not able to sign on other countries to work with, so they are going to change the name to MPA to get other countries on board.
“Sea Shepherd Global has done amazing partnerships with other countries and has proven our reputation, without having to change who we are and what we do. Why does the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society now feel the need to abandon who we are and what we do?
“The other change in the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society I noticed,” said Siver, “was the engineers. They all come from the Mexican Marine school around the corner from the dock we were at in Mazatlán. They are nice people, but the environment is not their concern.
“They bring meat aboard the ships”
“They bring meat aboard the ships, sit on the dock in full Sea Shepherd gear and order pizza or burgers delivered right to the ship. I had to ask my cabin mate, the second engineer, to remove the meat from the fridge in our cabin. He did it straight away, but at no time in my Sea Shepherd career have I ever had to ask anyone to remove animal products from the ships. The policy on animal products on board our ships is very clear, and we all sign contracts that state that fact.”
Deborah Bassett, who mentioned having worked with Paul Watson “through my various roles throughout the years with Sea Shepherd from personal assistant, crew member, chapter coordinator, campaign leader and so on,” gathered statements backing Watson’s criticisms of the Pritam Singh regime from other Sea Shepherd veterans including former captain and director of ship operations Locky Maclean and Gary Stokes, former director of Sea Shepherd Asia.
Wheel came off the wagon
About halfway between Watson’s resignation from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (U.S.) and his resignation from Sea Shepherd Global, according to a Sea Shepherd Global media release, “On Thursday August 18, 2022, after returning from boating in Funningsfjørdur,” where the Sea Shepherd members were observing whaling in the Faroe Islands, “four Sea Shepherd UK crew members driving their car according to the speed limits along mountain roads in the area suddenly lost their front left wheel. The car scraped the asphalt, but the driver managed to maintain control of the vehicle and bring it safely to a stop, while the lost wheel rolled off into the opposite lane.
“The Sea Shepherd vehicle was transported to a trusted local mechanic,” the media release said, “who discovered that all bolts on all four tires were intentionally loosened while the volunteers were out on the boats for several hours and the car was unattended. The incident was immediately reported to the Torshavn police.”
But it was not Faroese whalers whose actions appear to have lastingly knocked the wheels off the Sea Shepherd wagon.
Phil Wollen performs post-mortem
Assessed longtime Sea Shepherd Australia insider and former crew member Phil Wollen, “In a past life, I was an Investment banker in the corporate world. This made me privy to secrets,” including “the internal politics, the plots, the jockeying for position , the shady little games played by ambitious, sneaky people when they think no one is looking.
“When a ‘raider’ wishes to seize control of a company, or at least a significant degree of influence or access to its cash-flow,” Wollen explained, “he often starts by acquiring a strategic stake in the company.
“To appear less threatening, the ‘raider’ may acquire a stake comfortably below the trigger threshold” for alarming any of the other power-holders.
“This tactic often lulls the “target” board into a false sense of security,” Wollen said. “The wolf in shepherd’s clothing has arrived.
Isolating the board chair
“The wolf will then patiently put out innocuous feelers to the incumbent board, assuring them that he is a passive investor, and has some unique skills, relationships, and qualities that he could bring to their table, thereby benefitting the board and the company.
“As time goes by,” continued Wollen, “the wolf surreptitiously finds charming ways to undermine, or at least shed doubt on the judgment of some of the chairperson’s supporters.
“After the first elimination, all subsequent hatchet jobs become easier. The more astute staff will silently observe the chair having regular lunches with the wolf, even moving the wolf into the office next door in the executive suite.
“The coup de grace comes,” said Wollen, “when the wolf successfully persuades the board that he should become the executive director.
“He is now the gatekeeper. All information is funneled and filtered through him. He is now in control. It does not take long before the wolf goes after the main target. He will soon elevate himself to the role of president.
“The chair, now operating in name only, barely notices that his once sturdy network of qualified supporters in the management team and on the board have become more distant, more reserved. Many have gradually been replaced by unfamiliar strangers.
“The chair soon becomes more isolated. His influence wanes. Attending fewer meetings, he becomes less involved in five key areas: chairing the finance sub-committee, hiring, firing, stakeholder relations and media interviews.
“No longer involved in actively framing strategy, he is presented with a bound copy of the finished product.
“Castrated ex-chairs are defacto allies”
“But the chairman will be handsomely compensated. He will be feted; sent on extravagant, ambassadorial but inconsequential trips; his expense budget will be increased; perhaps a handsome housing allowance, a driver, a gardener, or a cook. The cost of these perks to the company is miniscule in the overall scheme of things.
“But here is the beauty in the wolf’s strategy,” Wollen observed.
“Castrated ex-chairs are de facto allies. They rarely chose to fight on a matter of policy, particularly after they have been beaten. The weakened chairman’s main role will be limited to shaking hands, opening the meeting, calling for votes, closing the meeting and signing the minutes. Soon he will voluntarily retire but retain a lucrative role as a consultant.
“Airbrushed off the web site”
“He will be airbrushed off the web site,” said Wollen, replaced by the wolf, who has by then assembled a coterie of acolytes within the organization, and a network of well-paid spin doctors outside the organization.
“This scenario is not limited to the corporate world,” Wollen warned in conclusion. “It has happened frequently in various SPCAs, animal rights alliances, wildlife protection organizations, and those involved in campaigns against clearing old-growth forests for timber, agriculture, and mining.
“To use a nautical analogy,” Wollen mentioned “directors of sea-faring organizations, whose glossy curriculum vitae cover several pages of photogenic pictures,” but whose “scant practical knowledge of ships’ operations could be written on the back of a postage stamp, with large print of course,” with a “record of sea time in a logbook limited to attendance at a cocktail party aboard the ship while it was tied up at the dock.”
All of this, Wollen finished, “reminds me of a rib-tickling Monty Python skit. A dull, insipid, middle-aged accountant wishes to change careers. He is seeking glamour, excitement, and public adulation. He explains to a career counsellor that his ambition is to become a lion tamer. And wishes to start work the following morning.
“He admits he has never tamed a lion before, or any other animal for that matter. Nor has he ever seen a lion; and couldn’t recognize one if he did. In fact, he confuses a lion with an ant-eater.
“But he confidently claims he has all the qualifications required of a lion tamer because he is the proud owner of a lion tamer’s hat. And the hat has an illuminated sign on it which reads ‘Lion Tamer.’
“So my message is simple,” Wollen advised. “Real threats come from the least qualified, most devious, and most mendacious. They always start by being your friends. Eternal vigilance is the price you pay for liberty.”