A US federal court of appeals on Monday has branded the anti-whaling activist group Sea Shepherd as "pirates" ordering them to cease interfering with Japanese whaling operations in the Southern Ocean and clearing the way for whalers to pursue legal actions against the animal rights group.
"You don't need a peg leg or an eye patch" to be a pirate, declared chief judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals, as he overturned a lower court's ruling against Japanese whalers, adding "no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be."
Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson responded to the ruling saying it was "entirely devoid of real evidence."
"We are called many names," he said, "but the real question is whether Sea Shepherd is breaking the law." Watson emphasized that the Sea Shepherd crew has not, "nor do they intend to injure Japanese whalers."
"[The judge] 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," he told AAP.
Watson added that the group has "fully complied with the injunction" and that the US Court has no jurisdiction over Australians and other non-U.S. citizens—who are currently manning the fleet—on internationally flagged vessels operating in Australian waters.
The Shepherds are trying to prevent the slaughter of whales off the coast of Antarctica, an area which the International Whaling Commission considers a sanctuary for the large mammals. Australia is currently taking legal action against the country for its whaling activities.
According to AFP, the ruling allows the Japanese whalers to pursue legal action in the US against the Sea Shepherd’s activism.
Upholding a false designation which excuses the illegal hunting practice, Kozinski declared the plaintiffs "Japanese researchers who hunt whales in the Southern Ocean."
Previously, Japanese whalers—under the guise of the Institute of Cetacean Research—filed legal action in the US to prevent the Sea Shepherds from interfering with their hunts. District Judge Richard Jones sided with the activists but that decision was reversed Monday by the 9th Circuit three-judge panel.
The ruling comes weeks into a high-sea standoff between the Japanse whaling vessel, the Nisshin Maru, and the Shepherd's fleet—the Bob Barker and the Steve Irwin—during which, the Shepherds report, the whalers have rammed both their vessels and have been using water cannons and stun grenades against them, even going to so far as to threaten them with a military icebreaker.