Japanese Whalers' Lawsuit Will Continue

     SEATTLE (CN) - A federal judge refused to dismiss a piracy action from Japanese whalers against anti-whaling activist Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherd organization.
     The Institute of Cetacean Research sued Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in 2011, accusing it of interfering with its ships in the Antarctic.
     Whale lovers claim the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research is a bogus attempt to use "science" to cover for the nation's taste for whale meat.
     Watson and Sea Shepherd were the subject of the reality TV show "Whale Wars."
     In its federal lawsuit, the institute claimed Sea Shepherd rammed its whaling ships, threw smoke bombs and flares and dragged ropes to disable ships' propellers, among other things. It sued Watson and his group for injunctive relief, saying the disruptions were piracy under international law.
     A federal judge in 2012 denied the institute's request for an injunction. U.S. District Judge Richard Jones found that Watson's group "hurt no one despite using essentially the same tactics for eight whaling seasons."
     The institute appealed to the 9th Circuit, which granted the whalers a preliminary injunction in December 2012. The court did not explain its reasoning, but set a 500-yard "safety zone" to block the activists from interfering with the whaling ships.
     The 9th Circuit also reinstated the whalers' piracy claim and ordered the injunction to remain in effect until further order.
     In March this year, the International Court of Justice held that Japan must stop granting permits for whale "research" because its program does not comply with international whaling regulations.
     Japan canceled its research program, called JARPA II, but in April a government official announced its intent to start a new research program for 2015-16 that will comply with the International Court of Justice's ruling.
     Back in the United States, federal court proceedings from the whalers' 2011 lawsuit are stayed because of "the factual and legal overlap," but the court allowed Watson and Sea Shepherd to bring a motion to dismiss.
     Because the whalers will not kill whales in the 2014-15 season, the activists argued that their claims are moot.
     But the activists ignored the evidence that the Japanese government intends to continue whaling next year, U.S. District Judge James Robart held.
     "Japan has issued all prior permits for research whaling, both under JARPA II and earlier programs, to The Institute of Cetacean Research. No other entity besides The Institute has obtained a permit from Japan," Robart wrote.
     "The Director General of The Institute testifies that, in accordance with Japan's official policy statement, the Institute intends to ask the government of Japan to issue permits to engage in both lethal and nonlethal research whaling for the 2015 and future seasons."
     The activists could not prove that Japan will not be able to design a new "research" program that complies with the International Justice Court, the judge found.
     In finding the whalers' claims are not moot, Robart also rejected the activists' argument that Japan will abandon the whaling program due to "international pressure."
     "Although international anti-whaling sentiment is well-documented, defendants' assertions as to the effect of that pressure of the government of Japan are speculative," the judge wrote.
     The court denied the motion to dismiss.