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PLYMOUTH — A man known for his piratical ways in defending life in the world’s seas is being sued by the U.S. branch of the organization he co-founded in 1977.

“This is an action for trademark and service mark infringement, unfair competition, false advertising, cyberpiracy ...” state court documents filed by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society U.S. in federal court in Vermont, “as well as for tortious interference with prospective business relations, trade libel, conspiracy, unjust enrichment ... and for an injunction arising out of [Paul Watson’s] misappropriation and infringement of [Sea Shepherd’s] trademarks and service marks.”

Watson, who is named as a defendant in the suit, as well as the Captain Paul Watson Foundation and Sea Shepherds Origins, now lives in Plymouth.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society U.S. has offices in Burbank, California, Arlington, Virginia, and Woodstock.

“We don’t understand on what basis Mister Pritam Singh, chairman of SSCS, is suing Sea Shepherd Origins,” wrote Lamya Essemlali, co-president and co-founder of Sea Shepherd Origins, in an email. “SSO is a legally registered French organization, founded by the very founder of Sea Shepherd, the captain Paul Watson and some of the most ancient and most active leaders of Sea Shepherd worldwide. The legitimacy and the good intentions of the founders is not questionable. What raises questions on the other hand, is the will of Mr. Singh, who has no previous history in ocean conservation, to bring down SSO.”

Between its founding in 1981 and 2012, Watson served as a member of the board of directors of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, as well as its president and executive director.

“For approximately the last ten years, Watson’s level of involvement in SSCS has been sporadic and, in some cases, nonexistent,” states the complaint.

In 2022, Watson resigned from the SSCS, stating in his resignation letter that he had been “marginalized” by the organization, and “my advice ignored, my close associates terminated and directors that supported me were removed. I was reduced to being a paid figurehead ...”

Two weeks before his resignation in July, Watson founded the Paul Watson Foundation and on Dec. 12, he founded Sea Shepherd Origins.

SSCS is the owner of both the name Sea Shepherd and the Sea Shepherd “Jolly Roger Logo,” states the complaint, both of which Watson has misappropriated.

“Defendants are using all of the foregoing to divert support and fundraising away from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in favor of Watson’s newly formed and promoted organizations,” states the complaint.

Watson “unlawfully conspired with others” to misappropriate Sea Shepherd’s name and logo, states the complaint, and should be ordered to cease doing so and his “ill-obtained fundraising revenue” should be turned over to SSCS.

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Watson remains a director of Sea Shepherd affiliates in France, Britain and Brazil.

In his resignation letter, Watson states he remains “a director of Sea Shepherd Global.”

“Watson is utilizing his position as a U.S. based leader of these Affiliated Entities to promote Sea Shepherd Origins and assist in the collection of donations from U.S. based supporters in favor of the Captain Paul Watson Foundation,” states the complaint.

Sea Shepherd is described by Influence Watch as “an aggressive and controversial environmentalist and animal liberation protest organization.”

It is also know for “Whale Wars,” a reality television show aired on the Discovery Channel.

“Sea Shepherd’s favored direct actions include ramming ships, fouling props, firing illegal high-powered laser devices, and firing projectiles containing butyric acid ...” states Influence Watch. “Sea Shepherd’s Paul Watson claims that the organization has sunk ten ships since its founding.”

In 2013, A U.S. circuit court judge labeled Sea Shepherd as “pirates” and ordered it to stop its aggressive actions against Japanese whalers.

“You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch,” wrote Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski. “When you ram ships; hurl containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be.”

The U.S. branch of SSCS has tried to distance itself from its pirate legacy, working “lawfully together with both governmental and non-governmental organizations within the SSCS Territory against unlawful whaling and fishing operations,” states the complaint filed in Vermont.

“[M]y role is to rock the boat, to make waves, to provoke people to think about the damage we are collectively inflicting upon diversity and interdependence of life in the ocean,” wrote Watson in his resignation letter. “The current Board seeks to turn our vessels away from confronting illegal poachers that prey on endangered species and instead seeks to turn our fleet into non-controversial research vessels. ... Sea Shepherd has always, and must always go where others fear to go, to say the things that must be said and to tackle the obstacles fearlessly and with great resolve.”

Watson wrote he refuses to “change or adopt an approach that diminishes the incredible movement that we have created over the last four and a half decades, a movement that continues to grow outside the borders of the United States.”

“[W]ith the exception of the USA,” he wrote, “I will continue to support our campaigns around the world utilizing our unique philosophy of aggressive non-violence and cooperation with governments and [non-governmental organizations].”

Bob Audette can be contacted at