LOS ANGELES – The Sea Shepherd militant environmental group vowed Tuesday to fight a U.S. court order to stay at least 500 yards (about 457 meters) from Japanese whaling ships.
The injunction was ordered by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the latest step in a legal battle between the antiwhaling group and Japanese authorities.
The court said Sea Shepherd and fugitive Canadian militant conservationist Paul Watson, for whom Interpol has issued a Red Notice, “are enjoined from physically attacking any vessel engaged by plaintiffs,” including Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research.
In addition, they are banned from “navigating in a manner that is likely to endanger the safe navigation of any such vessel,” said the order issued Monday.
“In no event shall defendants approach plaintiffs any closer than 500 yards when defendants are navigating on the open sea,” it added.
The plaintiffs are Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd., the company that leads the whaling missions, and Tomoyuki Ogawa and Toshiyuki Miura, who are reportedly masters of two whaling vessels.
The Institute of Cetacean Research and Kyodo Senpaku said they “welcome” the injunction, which will remain in force until the U.S. court issues its opinion on an appeal by the two bodies.
They said they had recently asked the court to expedite its review because Sea Shepherd had “launched its sabotage vessels and announced its intention once again to take physical action against the Japanese research vessels.”
Sea Shepherd attorney Charles Moure said in an email that the court injunction was “very disappointing.”
“We intend to fight the order,” he said.
Confrontations between the whalers and activists have escalated in recent years and the hunt was cut short in early 2011 due to Sea Shepherd harassment.
Japan hunts whales using a loophole in a global moratorium that allows killing the sea mammals for scientific research, although the meat is later sold in shops and restaurants.
Watson confirmed this month that he was back on board a Sea Shepherd vessel and ready to confront the whalers.
His whereabouts had been a mystery since July, when he jumped bail in Germany, where he was arrested on charges stemming from a confrontation over shark-finning in 2002.
Sea Shepherd said earlier this month that Watson would be involved in this season’s campaign against Japan’s whaling operations and he confirmed in a statement that he was back in charge.
“The deck of the Steve Irwin is again under my feet,” Watson said Dec. 5. “I have an awesome crew and our ship is on course for Antarctica.”
Watson, who for years has harassed Japan’s whale hunt, was arrested in Germany in May for extradition to Costa Rica over the shark-finning incident, in which he tried to block a vessel engaged in the illegal activity. He says the charges are politically motivated, driven by the Japanese government.