Paul Watson -- the animal rights activist who stars on "Whale Wars" -- tells TMZ he's been FALSELY accused of sinking the famous Ady Gil anti-whaling ship ... and is now pointing the finger at the ship's captain.
We broke the story ... Watson is being sued by the ship's namesake Ady Gil -- who claims he owned the vessel and leased it to Watson's Sea Shepherd organization. In his suit, Gil says the ship suffered minor damage in a fender bender with a Japanese whaling ship in 2010 and could have been repaired -- but Watson secretly had the ship destroyed so he could blame the whalers and gain publicity for his animal rights group.
But, in a statement to TMZ, Watson denies ANY wrongdoing and says ... "It seems like Ady Gil is simply frustrated that he could not get justice from the Japanese whalers who did sink his boat and has decided to lash out at us [Watson and the Sea Shepherd Org.] instead."
Watson claims the person who should REALLY get the blame for the crash is the ship's captain -- Peter Bethune -- who "negligently stopped his ship in the path of the whaling vessel and it was cut in half."
Watson says there is video of the crash that backs up his story.
Watson adds, "Peter Bethune was never under my command and I did not give him any order and I certainly did not order him to destroy his own ship." Watson says he was 250 miles away from the boat at the time of the crash.
Watson says Bethune eventually made the decision to abandon the vessel in the open water because the damage was so extreme, he couldn't tow it to port for repairs.
Bottom line -- Watson says he shouldn't be held responsible for the fate of the boat because "the Ady Gil was not a Sea Shepherd ship and was not under my command."
Check out Watson's entire statement after the jump.