Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, December 22, 2014


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Ninth Circuit Holds Anti-Whaling Activists in Contempt


From Staff and Wire Service Reports


Activists who have led a campaign of violent harassment of Japanese whaling vessels are in contempt of a Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals injunction, the panel that issued the injunction ruled Friday.

Judge Milan D. Smith Jr., writing for the court, rejected claims by the U.S.-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society; its founder, Canadian environmentalist Paul Watson; and six other individuals that they had no control over the foreign entities and individuals—mostly from Australia—who carried out the attacks after the injunction was issued in December 2012.

The panel—consisting of Smith, Judge Alex Kozinski, and Senior Judge A. Wallace Tashima—had ordered Sea Shepard, Watson, and “any person acting in concert with them” to keep their vessels 500 feet away from those of the Institute of Cetacean Research, a Japanese foundation that holds a permit to hunt whales in the Southern Ocean.

Undisputed Evidence

Smith said there was undisputed evidence that Sea Shepherd and the cited individuals had engaged in a “separation strategy” of turning over “substantial” control of their campaign, dubbed Operation Zero Tolerance, to the foreign entities while continuing to materially support it.

That campaign, amounted to “piracy,” Kozinski wrote in a prior opinion.

“You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch,” he wrote. “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, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be.”

In February of last year, the panel appointed a commissioner to engage in factfinding regarding the contempt charges. The commissioner concluded on Jan. 31 that the defendants weren’t in violation of the court order because the harassment campaign was being managed outside the United States.

The panel Friday rejected that conclusion.

Separation Strategy

The separation strategy, Smith noted, was conceived within days of the 2012 injunction. It included turning over control of the Steve Irwin, one of four Sea Shepherd ships involved in the campaign, to an Indian national, but with Watson remaining on board, and transferring operational control to Sea Shepherd Australia and Bob Brown, a former Australian senator who headed that country’s Green Party.

The transfer was agreed to at a telephonic board meeting of Sea Shepherd Australia chaired by Watson, who then resigned from the board in favor of Brown.

Smith noted, however, that the U.S. organization remained involved, paying more than $160,000 in expenses invoiced after the injunction was issued, and that Watson was consulted on operational decisions and was on board the Steve Irwin during two collisions that occurred during efforts to prevent the whaling ships from refueling.

The organization also transferred one of its other ships, the Bob Barker, worth an estimated $2 million, to Sea Shepherd Netherlands, without consideration.

“Sea Shepherd U.S. is liable because it intentionally furnished cash payments, and a vessel and equipment worth millions of dollars, to individuals and entities it knew would likely violate the injunction,” Smith wrote.

Back to Commissioner

Under the ruling, the commissioner will determine how much the U.S. group, Watson, and six individual U.S. board members will have to pay in damages and lawyer fees, while a district judge in the Western District of Washington will consider requests for coercive sanctions.

The environmentalists’ exploits have been documented on the long-running Animal Planet reality TV series “Whale Wars.” Associated Press calls and emails to the Sea Shepherd U.S. office and its lawyer were not returned Friday.

The case is Institute of Cetacean Research v. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, 12-35266.


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