Sea Shepherd sues whalers for piracy in Dutch court

AFP-JIJI

Sea Shepherd has filed a suit against the crew of the whaling ship Nisshin Maru, alleging piracy and attempted manslaughter following a clash with two of the environmental group’s vessels in the Antarctic Ocean last month, their lawyers said.

“We hereby lodge a suit for piracy, violence and destruction and attempted manslaughter on Feb. 20 and 25 by Captain Tomoyuki Ogawa and the rest of the crew,” lawyers Liesbeth Zegveld and Tomasz Kodrzycki said Thursday in court documents.

The suit was filed in a court in the Netherlands because the two Sea Shepherd ships involved in the incident with the Japanese whaling fleet’s mother ship, the Steve Irwin and Bob Barker, are Dutch-flagged.

“On Feb. 20 and 25, the Sea Shepherd boats were able to prevent an illegal refuelling operation by (the) Nisshin Maru,” the lawyers said in a statement. “The Nisshin Maru’s captain then attacked these boats by repeatedly ramming them, by using water canon to flood the engine room and sabotage the engines, and by throwing explosives.”

The government-backed Institute for Cetacean Research has in turn accused the Sea Shepherd vessels of ramming the Nisshin Maru.

A similar suit was filed by Sea Shepherd in the Netherlands in 2010, but prosecutors eventually dropped the cast. Lawyers hope that the Sea Shepherd vessels’ registration in the Netherlands will help this time round.

The latest legal broadside in the long-running conflict between hardline Sea Shepherd activists and Japan’s whalers comes after the group’s fleet docked Wednesday in Australia after another bitter campaign in isolated Antarctic waters.

The Steve Irwin, the Bob Barker and the Sam Simon suffered an estimated $1 million in damage after run-ins with Japanese whaling ships since leaving port in November to disrupt the annual hunt.

In February, a U.S. appeals court labelled the Washington state-based Sea Shepherd pirates, overturning a lower court ruling against the Japanese whalers. The same court in December ordered Sea Shepherd to maintain a distance of 500 yards (457 meters) from the Japanese fleet.

The Institute of Cetacean Research and other groups are pursuing legal action in the United States, seeking an injunction against Sea Shepherd’s activities on the high seas. Japan claims it conducts vital scientific research by exploiting a loophole in the International Whaling Commission’s 1986 ban on whale hunts, but makes no secret of the fact that meat from the mammals ultimately ends up on dinner plates.

Japan defends its whaling as a cherished tradition and accuses Western critics of disrespecting its culture. Norway and Iceland are the only other nations that hunt whales in open defiance of the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling.