Sea Shepherd slams court ruling against conservationists ‘physically attacking’ Japanese whalers
To many people, Sea Shepherd crews are champions of the conservation movement. But to Japanese whalers, they’re pesky protesters who have a habit of getting in the way. A court in the US has to some extent, sided with the whalers, although the conservationists dismissed the ruling as “absolutely meaningless”.
Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research announced on Tuesday that it had reached a court mediated settlement with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Paul Watson, founder of the organisation, that they are “permanently enjoined from physically attacking the research vessels and crew and from navigating in a manner that is likely to endanger their safe navigation”.
The agreement also includes Kyodo Senpaku, which provides the vessels and crew for Japan’s so-called research whaling operations, and additionally states that “the enjoined parties cannot approach the research vessels any closer than 500 yards (457 metres) on the open sea; and SSCS cannot provide funds to facilitate attacks by other Sea Shepherd entities”.
A spokesman for the ICR welcomed the ruling but admitted it had serious limitations.
“In general, we believe that the US and Australian operations make it one organisation, but we could not expect a US court to issue a ruling on their operations outside America,” Kaiyo Omagari, of the ICR’s Survey and Research Division, told the South China Morning Post.
“This was the best outcome that we could hope for,” he said, adding that the ICR has no plans to take on Sea Shepherd in an Australian court “because Australia is an anti-whaling country”.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries also applauded the ruling, with Yuki Morita, of the Whaling Division, saying, “If this agreement leads to greater safety for Japan’s research vessels, then we welcome it.”
The ministry also intends to go ahead with the 12-year New Scientific Whale Research Programme in the Antarctic Ocean (NEWREP-A),announced last year, which specifies a catch of 333 whales in the Southern Ocean each whaling season.
Sea Shepherd Australia spokesman Adam Burling made it clear that the ruling will have no impact on its campaign to frustrate the whalers’ operations this year.
“It’s absolutely meaningless to us and will have no effect on our campaign as we have run our campaigns without the involvement of our US arm since 2012,” Burling said, adding that there is a degree of irony over the case in that Japanese whalers have repeatedly shown “contempt” for Australian and international law.
In September 2015, an Australian federal court made a landmark ruling in which it fined Japanese whalers A$1 million (US$761,000) for contempt of court after they ignored an earlier ruling forbidding them from slaughtering whales in Australian waters.
The fine has not been paid, however, as it can only be enforced in Australia.
Japan’s whaling operations have continued despite a ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2014 that the “scientific whaling” programme in the Antarctic Ocean is illegal.
Japan’s response was to introduce NEWREP-A, which last year resulted in the slaughter of 333 minke whales, of which 200 were pregnant females, Burling said, “meaning that the death toll was actually much higher”.
“There is this blind pursuit of whaling, despite all the international opposition,” he added.
Opinion polls conducted by Sea Shepherd in Australia indicated that 76 per cent of the public want the government to intervene more forcefully when Japanese whalers operate in the whale sanctuary declared by Canberra but effectively ignored by Tokyo.
The Australian government has expressed its “disappointment” in Japan continuing its whaling operations in a recognised sanctuary, but Burling said the importance of bilateral trade has limited the force with which Australia has delivered its message.
Details of Sea Shepherd’s operations to hamper the whalers during the upcoming season are to be announced before the end of August, Burling said.