Those Anti-Whaling Pirates

by Julian Ku

My former law firm colleague Natalie Klein (now a law prof at Macquarie) calls out aggressive anti-whaling protesters, suggesting they could be liable for piracy.

WHEN Sea Shepherd Conservation Society member Pete Bethune climbed from his jet ski on to Japanese whaling ship the Shonan Maru 2 and presented a demand for money following weeks of hostile encounters between the whalers and Sea Shepherd, the environmental activists finally crossed the line from protesters to pirates.

Read the whole thing here.  Not quite pirates, but surprisingly close.

4 Responses

  1. I asked this question on my sailing and travel blog a few weeks back after the collision and sinking of their fast boat.
    My friend the journalist Russ Hoyle had some interesting comments.
    The demand for cash does show they have finally crossed the line.
    But the videos on the Shepherds’ site are quite persuasive that the Japanese ship in the recent encounter was heading for them and was reckless in the most charitable view of the collision. – GWC

  2. They may well be real pirates. Contrary to the suggestion in the article you link to, there is no requirement that pirates be motivated by money. Pirates can operate from any private (not governmentally-sponsored) motive, including ideological ones. All that is required is an “act of violence.” I seem to recall that one of the tactics of the anti-whaling ships is to try to ram whaling vessels. That would be piracy, as well as a violation of the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, Art. 3(1)(c).

  3. It doesn’t appear the ICC keeps their per-incident statistics for piracy online anymore (Although their website implies you can acquire them for free via email) I seem to recall Sea Shepherd incidents regularly being reported as piracy in prior years.

    For some reason, the auto-link feature doesn’t want to work with my browser, so their website is listed below:

  4. As many, but probably not all, readers of this blog are likely aware, piracy is currently defined by Article101 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which reads in key part: 

    Piracy consists of any of the following acts:
    (a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:

    (i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;

    Personally, I’m hard pressed to see how one can objectively describe boarding a vessel to “demand” compensation for an actual collision loss as an act of piracy.  An uninvited boarding by an individual lacking any credible claim to be in actual distress may well be a crime under the law of the flag state and subject the perpetrator to liability for some low level offense such as trespassing.  But while a “demand” for compensation for the actual loss of a vessel by an unarmed individual may be considered to be “for private ends” and satisfy the famous “two vessel” requirement, it is hardly an “act of violence or detention” or a “depredation” of the magnitude envisioned by this historically capital crime.  It is simply not credible in my view for anyone to assert that this is an act of piracy.

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