980sea shepherd
A Sea Shepherd ship comes betweenJapanese whaling ship Nisshin Maru (left) and the whaling fleet's fuel tanker during a clash Monday off Antarctica. (Sea Shepherd Australia image)

Washington-based Sea Shepherd denies claims they're 'modern-day pirates'

A federal appeals court panel says a group of anti-whaling protesters based out of Friday Harbor are "modern-day pirates" and ordered them to halt their aggressive and high-profile attacks of Japanese whalers.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion is a follow-up to an injunction issued in December. The court ordered the organization to keep its ships at least 500 yards from Japanese whalers. The whalers have since accused the protesters of violating that order at least twice this month.

Scott West, director of investigations for Sea Shepherd, says the U.S. operation separated itself from Sea Shepherd-Australia, which is conducting the direct action against the whaling operations off Antarctica, and the opinion has no bearing.

"What Sea Shepherd Australia is doing with Australian flagged vessels and Dutch flagged vessels down in the Australian Antarctic territory is outside of any sort of control of the courts in the United States," he said.

"You don't need a peg leg or an eye patch," Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said in the majority opinion calling Sea Shepherd pirates. Kozinski said the activists threatened the lives of Japanese whalers, describing their tactics as "the very embodiment of piracy."

"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."

"Ramming ships, fouling propellers and hurling fiery and acid-filled projectiles easily qualify as violent activities, even if they could somehow be directed only at inanimate objects," Konzinski ruled.

But West vehemently disagreed. "We have yet to hurt anybody, we have yet to plunder any gold or do anything that would fit within the definition of privacy," he said.

The 9th Circuit Court ruled late Monday that the whalers were likely to succeed with their federal lawsuit seeking to permanently ban Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd organization he founded from disrupting the annual whale hunt in the Southern Ocean.

The Sea Shepherd's efforts are the subject of the television show, 'Whale Wars.'

The case will be remanded to U.S. District Court in Seattle for further action.

Just Monday, a Sea Shepherd ship clashed Monday off Antarctica with a Japanese whaling fleet. Sea Shepherd captain Paul Watson said the factory ship Nisshin Maru rammed a Sea Shepherd vessel, while the Institute of Cetacean Research accused several Sea Shepherd boats of ramming the Nisshin Maru as it tried to refuel with a supply tanker, The Japan Times reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

KIRO Radio Staff, Staff report
Straight from the newsdesk.
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