A US federal court has branded the conservationist group Sea Shepherd as pirates, and ordered them to cease their operations at sea, opening the door for Japanese whalers to pursue legal action in the United States against the activists.
Chief judge Alex Kozinski wrote in an 18-page opinion that “you don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch” to be classified as pirates.
“When you ram ships, hurl glass 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,” he said, adding that the group’s actions were the “very embodiment of piracy.”
But Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson says Kozinski’s belief that he is a “pirate” is one-sided and irrelevant.
“That’s an opinion, it’s certainly not a judgment,” he told AAP. “He didn’t mention anything in there about the fact that the Japanese have destroyed one of our ships (the Ady Gil in 2010), they’ve thrown concussion grenades at us, hit us with water cannons and laser beams.”
Watson added that contrary to Kozinski’s claims, Sea Shepherd has not rammed a single Japanese whaling vessel.
“The judge obviously has not seen the evidence or the facts; he’s just making an opinion based on his own personal prejudices,” he said.
Earlier, Japanese whalers from the Institute of Cetacean Research filed legal action in the US to stop the Sea Shepherd’s anti-whaling activism. But District Judge Richard Jones sided with the activists, leading to a ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the original decision and criticized Jones.
The ruling will allow Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research to pursue legal action in the US against the Sea Shepherd’s activism. Even though whaling is illegal in Australian waters, the Sea Shepherd activists have no right to initiate a standoff, Kozinski said: “It is for Australia, not Sea Shepherd, to police Australia’s court orders.”
The US ruling also criticized Jones, stating that he was “off base” when arguing that the protesters’ tactics were nonviolent because they did not target people, just ships and equipment: “The district judge’s numerous, serious and obvious errors identified in our opinion raise doubts as to whether he will be perceived as impartial in presiding over this high-profile case.”
The case will now be transferred to another judge.
For the past few weeks, the activists’ ships have been in a standoff with Japanese whaling vessels in the Southern Ocean. Sea Shepherd activists have also blockaded the Japanese ships from refueling at the Sun Laurel tanker ship.
Both sides have accused each other of damaging vessels during the standoff. The activists also claimed that the Japanese whalers have been using water cannons and stun grenades against them, and that Japan has deployed a military icebreaker to threaten them.
Japan has denied the reports; Australia is currently taking legal action against the country for its whaling activities.
Sea Shepherd vessels are known for chasing down Japanese whalers to disrupt their annual hunt and prevent the mammals from being killed. They set sail from Australia, and try to block or attack Japanese whaling vessels.
Whaling for commercial purposes has been banned for the past 25 years, but Japan still sends ships on annual hunts. Tokyo has argued that such hunts are for scientific research only, which is permitted by an international treaty, but several media reports have indicated that the Japanese hunts have no scientific value.