Sea Shepherd Officer Arrested in the Galapagos

PUERTO AYORA, Galapagos, Ecuador, August 31, 2001 (ENS) - Sea Shepherd marine liason officer Sean O'Hearn Gimenez has been arrested and is in custody of police in Puerto Ayora. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a California based international organization, has a ship patroling the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

O'Hearn, an American, aroused the anger of Ecuadorian naval authorities in his position on the Sea Shepherd patrol ship Sirenian. The ship has been on anti-poaching patrols of the reserve since March under a five year contract with Ecuador's National Park Service.


Sean O'Hearn Gimenez (Photos courtesy Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)
The Sirenian crew headed by O'Hearn and assisted by Galapagos park officials captured vessels illegally fishing and shark finning in the reserve, but the vessels were ordered released by an Ecuadorian admiral, O'Hearn alleges. When O'Hearn complained vigorously about the releases he made enemies who have now determined to get rid of him.

Police in Puerto Ayora will not say on what charge O'Hearn is being held nor if he has been charged with a crime, according to a Sea Shepherd spokesman.

O’Hearn accompanied the Sea Shepherd patrol ship Sirenian when it first came to the Galapagos last year and returned last week on board the Sea Shepherd flagship Ocean Warrior. He had arranged to remain in Ecuador on a 30 day visa.

With Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson at the helm, the Ocean Warrior was in Ecuador to re-supply and repair the Sirenian. The Ecuadorian Navy seized the Ocean Warrior on August 27 near Puerto Ayora and posted a gunboat beside the ship.

For five days, vaval officers refused to allow Watson to refuel the conservation vessel, refused to allow anyone on or off the ship, and handed Watson a written order to leave Ecuadorean waters by 0800 today.

Finally, after being allowed by the Ecuadorian Navy to transfer necessary parts and supplies to the Sea Shepherd patrol vessel Sirenian yesterday, Watson said he was "satisfied that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society had succeeded in carrying out its conservation mission in the Galapagos despite a five day deadline and the restrictive detention imposed by the Navy on his crew."


The Ocean Warrrior
The Ocean Warrior attempted to depart this afternoon, only to be turned back by the Ecuadorian Navy when officers demanded that O’Hearn rejoin the vessel and leave the country.

Ocean Warrior inquired with Ecuador Immigration, who affirmed that O’Hearn’s 30-day visa was valid and he is authorized to remain in the country. Officials also affirmed that O’Hearn is still in possession of a one year diplomatic visa.

Ocean Warrior again prepared to depart, and the Navy again insisted that O’Hearn must leave the country. When he refused, he was arrested.

Now Watson says the Ocean Warrior is standing by and will not leave the Galapagos without assurance from the government of Ecuador that O'Hearn will be safe. He has contacted the U.S. Embassy in Quito and the U.S. consulate in Guyaquil.

"The Navy and port authorities denied us permission to enter the country, then required us to declare an emergency in order to enter, then accused us of having no emergency, then variously imposed, relaxed, and tightened arbitrary restrictions on the movements of my crew and visitors to the ship, and denied our valid visas," said Watson.

"Despite this, we managed to do what we came here to do, and as a result our patrol boat will shortly be in peak operating condition and ready to resume its duties in the service of the Galapagos National Park."

Before his arrest O'Hearn affirmed his confidence in the officials of the Galapagos National Park. "The Park has been doing an amazing job," he said. "As for the Navy, I think this incident is probably best viewed as good practice for them: The way they've treated us is exactly the way they should treat illegal fishing vessels caught inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Now they need to focus on that."


Captured shark fins and trunks
The Sea Shepherd is not alone in pursuing the Colombian and Costa Rican shark fishing vessels most often found operating in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Officials of the Charles Darwin Research Station together with Galapagos National Park officials and biologists have inspected these vessels and found hundreds of illegal fins.

Shark fins are in demand for the lucrative Asian market where they are made into shark fin soup. The rest of the shark is discarded. Sharks are disappearing from the world's oceans under assault from fishing vessels and are increasingly taken in the bycatch of fisheries targeting other species.

According to the IUCN Species Survival Commission, shark species are highly vulnerable to overexploitation and slow to recover once their populations have been depleted. Their slow growth, late sexual maturity, low rate of reproduction and long life result in low rates of population increase.

The Galapagos chain of 13 large islands, six smaller ones and over 40 islets is located 622 miles off Ecuador's Pacific coast. Charles Darwin, the English naturalist, visited the Galapagos Islands in 1835 and later wrote "The Origin of the Species" based on observations and evidence gathered from the Galapagos.