FORMER Greens leader Bob Brown has been appointed a director of Sea Shepherd Australia in a bid to ensure the safety of the anti-whaling group's leader, Paul Watson.
Mr Watson is wanted by Japan over his Antarctic anti-whaling campaigns and, after skipping bail in Germany over a separate high-seas dispute, has been at sea for months to avoid arrest.
He is planning to establish the group's international headquarters in Williamstown in a move that could become a diplomatic headache for the federal government. Mr Brown said on Monday that a key part of his role as a Sea Shepherd Australia director was to ensure that Mr Watson could come ashore safely, and he warned that an arrest would cause uproar.
Mr Watson, who is currently on board the vessel Steve Irwin in the Southern Ocean, told Fairfax that he had been given a business entry visa to Australia by the Australian embassy in Washington.
''But I don't have a passport,'' he said. ''Both my Canadian and US passports are in Germany.''
Dr Brown said of his decision to join the group's board: ''Sea Shepherd is action, and people want action. It's committed to non-violence … and yet it's been involved in the most extraordinary courageous defence of these whales.''
He said he was keen to join a voyage south with the group, but for now he would be involved in strategy and decision-making as he helped to co-ordinate the Australian effort.
Dr Brown said it was important that Mr Watson was free to come to Australia, and there was no obligation on the Australian government to act on an Interpol red notice if he did.
''The red alert is simply that. It's an alert,'' Dr Brown said. ''I would think that if Paul Watson were to be arrested at some future time, there'd be uproar in Australia.
''What Australia should be doing is arresting the captains of the Japanese whaling fleet who are illegally down there harpooning whales in an international whale sanctuary.''
According to Interpol, a red notice is a request for a country to locate an individual with a view to their provisional arrest and extradition, in accordance with that country's national laws.
Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said at the weekend that if Mr Watson came to Australia there would be no intervention from the government.
''You'd have a situation where various agencies would do their job,'' he said.
Japan's Institute for Cetacean Research has obtained an interim injunction from a US Appeals Court restraining Sea Shepherd vessels from attacking the whaling fleet this season. It has called on Australia, as a Sea Shepherd flag state, to act against the group.
The Japanese consul-general in Melbourne, Hidenobu Sobashima, said his government was concerned about Sea Shepherd jeopardising the safety of crews and ships engaged in research whaling.
''Generally speaking, we believe those people responsible for those actions should be dealt with properly,'' Mr Sobashima said.
The whaling fleet left Japan only last Friday, losing weeks of its Antarctic season because of a partial refit of the factory ship, Nisshin Maru.
It is expected to reach the Antarctic in about the last week of January.
An official research plan is yet to be released, but it is believed to be a four-ship fleet - meaning that Sea Shepherd will match its numbers.
With the Steve Irwin at sea, the vessels Bob Barker and Brigitte Bardot are expected to leave Wellington, New Zealand, soon. The group's fourth ship, Sam Simon, is due to depart Hobart within a week.
With DAN HARRISON