TOKYO — The leader of a U.S.-based anti-whaling organization is now on an international wanted list for allegedly masterminding the group's disruption of Japanese whale hunts in the Antarctic Ocean, Japan's coast guard said Friday.
The move — done at Japan's request — signals Tokyo's escalating anger against the Sea Shepherd group, which it accuses of putting whalers' lives at risk during the annual Antarctic hunt.
The Canadian founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Paul Watson, 59, has been on the Interpol list since Wednesday, Coast Guard spokesman Shinichiro Tanaka said. He said Watson's whereabouts is unknown.
Sea Shepherd officials were not immediately available for comment.
Every year, Sea Shepherd attempts to obstruct Japan's whaling mission, which it carries out under an exception to a 1986 moratorium by the International Whaling Commission.
The Japanese Coast Guard already obtained a court-issued arrest warrant for Watson in April in connection with the trial of another activist accused of obstructing Japanese whaling in the Antarctic.
Japanese prosecutors accuse Watson of ordering Peter Bethune to climb onto the Japanese whaling vessel Shonan Maru 2 in February. Watson has denied the allegation.
Bethune, meanwhile, is charged with trespassing, vandalism, possession of a knife, obstructing business and assault. The 45-year-old New Zealander pleaded guilty to all but the assault charge. Prosecutors demanded two years in prison for Bethune in the last trial session earlier this month. A verdict should come July 7.
None of Sea Shepherd members, including Watson, have attended trial sessions.
Bethune admitted he climbed onto the Shonan Maru 2 from a Jet Ski in what he said was an attempt to confront the ship's captain over the sinking of a protesters' vessel the previous month. Prosecutors say Bethune threw glass bottles containing rotten butter at the harpoon boat, including one that broke and left three Japanese crew members with chemical burns. He was held on board the ship and arrested when the vessel returned to Tokyo in March.
Tanaka said the Interpol wanted list requests that police in 188 member nations cooperate with Japan's investigation of Watson by providing information about him, but does not require that they arrest him. He did not elaborate, citing the ongoing investigation.
Sea Shepherd last month announced that it had expelled Bethune, saying he had violated the group's policy against carrying weapons.