Karen Scott, a law professor at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury, has criticized the U.S. court that labeled the extreme activist group Sea Shepherd as “modern-day pirates,” and says the judge went too far. In deciding on a lawsuit from Japan’s whaling industry, which is currently struggling to conduct its annual hunt in the Southern Ocean, Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said earlier this week that Sea Shepherd’s actions were inexcusable, regardless of what they consider to be honorable intentions.
Professor Scott says the ruling was outside the bounds of international law, and could result in “far-reaching implications.” She clarifies that a U.S. judge’s labeling of “pirates” could mean that any country would be allowed to board the activists’ ships, arrest them, and try them under local jurisdiction. Prosecution can take place in any state, even without a connection between that country and the pirates, the pirates’ vessel, or the perceived victims. “This arguably goes too far and cannot be supported under international law as it stands today,” Scott adds. The New Zealander also criticizes Kozinski for his dismissal of Australia’s sovereignty claims over Antarctic waters, pointing out that the country has attempted to take legal action against Japan in international courts for its whaling in Australian waters.
Meanwhile, Paul Watson, the Sea Shepherd founder and previous campaign leader, has rejected the U.S. court’s latest ruling, saying it is little more than a joke. He and his organization have previously ignored U.S. court orders, including an injunction issued in December that ordered their vessels to stay at least 500 yards away from Japan’s fleet while at sea. In a recent editorial published in the Guardian, Watson argued that Sea Shepherd’s Australian division is not subject to U.S. laws. He also stated that Japan’s whalers are violating Australian federal court rulings from 2008 that forbid them from killing whales in Australian Antarctic waters.