Whalers Must Face Claims of High-Sea Sabotage

     SEATTLE (CN) — A federal judge refused to dismiss environmentalists' counterclaims accusing Japanese whalers of chasing and attacking their vessels and crews.
     The case involves an ongoing dispute between the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and a group of Japanese whalers called the Institute of Cetacean Research.
     Sea Shepherd, formerly headed by activist Paul Watson, was the subject of the reality TV show "Whale Wars."
     Three years ago, the Ninth Circuit granted the whalers an order preventing Sea Shepherd from disrupting the whaling operations, including a restraining order preventing the activists from being any closer than 500 yards from the whalers.
     Last year, Sea Shepherd filed a counter-complaint, which was dismissed, then filed a third in January.
     The Sea Shepherd defendants "plan to return to the Southern Ocean, beginning in the 2016-2017 season, to conduct campaigns to monitor, research and protect the vital krill population, and to seek out, monitor, document and expose poaching activities," according to court filings.
     Sea Shepherd differentiates between its nonprofit organization Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and "a loosely organized global conservation movement," and notes that the nonprofit group is the only Sea Shepherd entity in the lawsuit.
     Sea Shepherd claims the whalers "repeatedly launched attacks upon...Sea Shepherd vessels and crews."
     Among other things, the whalers "tracked down and chased Sea Shepherd vessels across long distances" and used "long-range acoustic devices and dangerous navigation tactics to force the ship to return to port," according to court records.
     The activists sought an injunction against the whalers to prevent acts of piracy and unsafe navigation, and the whalers moved to dismiss the claims.
     U.S. District Judge James Robart was unconvinced by the whalers' arguments and denied their motion to dismiss on Monday.
     "Defendants allege that the Institute does not discriminate as to whose intermeddling ships it targets with aggression," Robart wrote. "These allegations support the inference that past acts against foreign Sea Shepherd entities are predictive of similar acts in the future against SSCS, even when SSCS is obeying the injunction."
     Robart denied the whalers' request to dismiss the counterclaims after finding "a low threshold for alleging imminent injury."
     The judge also found that Sea Shepherd's piracy counterclaim was not barred by the "act of state" doctrine because even though Japan issued the whalers a permit to kill whales, that does not mean the whaling occurs "on behalf" of that country.
     "Sea Shepherd is pleased that the court is allowing us to proceed to trial on allegations that the whalers have engaged in piracy, unsafe navigation, and illegal financing of these acts, and we intend to pursue these claims aggressively," Claire Loebs Davis, shareholder at Lane Powell PC and attorney for Sea Shepherd and Paul Watson told Courthouse News in an email. "For decades, the Japanese whalers have violated the law with impunity by engaging in banned commercial whaling under the guise of conducting 'research.'"