Japan has demanded that anti-whaling activists immediately end their harassment of the country’s whaling fleet after detaining two radicals from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society who boarded one of their harpoon ships.
Pirate behavior on the high seas
Benjamin Potts of Australia and British national Giles Lane were held by the crew of the Yushin Maru 2 on Tuesday after illegally boarding the Japanese ship. The whalers claim the SSCS members had also made attacks on the ship by throwing acid on the decks and attempting to entangle the screw of the ship using ropes.
Paul Watson, captain of the SSCS ship Steve Irwin, denied that the two had thrown acid, saying it was only stink bombs made of rancid butter. He claims the two were merely trying to deliver a letter telling the crew that it was illegally hunting the whales. He fired back his own accusations of illegal behavior at the Japanese crew, saying that they had been mistreated. The accounts of what happened to the detained activists have varied a bit, with some saying they were tied to the mast and dunked in cold water before being detained and some even saying the crew attempted to push them overboard. The Japanese insist that the men were not treated roughly.
Minoru Morimoto, the director of the Institute for Cetacean Research, said: “Any accusations that we have tied them up or assaulted them are completely untrue. It is illegal to board another country’s vessels on the high seas. As a result, at this stage they are being held in custody while decisions are made on their future.”
The incident is likely to cause even more strain on the already tense relationship between Australia and Japan. Recently, an Australian court declared Japan’s whaling actions illegal. Japan has made it clear they will ignore the court ruling, which does not have any legally binding effect on Japan and is largely a symbolic move. Foreign ministry spokesman Tomohiko Taniguchi told the Guardian: “It is impossible for the Japanese government to accept the Australian court’s ruling. As far as we are concerned, Japan’s whaling activities are taking place in international waters and under a legal framework set out by the International Whaling Commission. But at this point it is very important that there is no violence on either side and that the activities must be allowed to continue in a calm and peaceful manner.”
The Japanese government has said it will return the men, either to their ship or an Australian monitoring vessel, but have demanded the SSCS stay at least 10 nautical miles away from their vessels. SSCS captain Paul Watson responded: “When you are holding hostages and you make demands, that is the definition of terrorism.” The group has reported the incident as a “kidnapping” to the Australian police.
Despite the SSCS’ allegations of rough treatment, and the Australian government’s announcement it will look into illegal activity from both parties in the incident, the SSCS members’ actions were quite clearly illegal. Boarding another vessel uninvited on the high seas is frequently interpreted by courts as an act of piracy, and according to international law expert Donald Rothwell it could possibly be interpreted as an act of terrorism.
While i’ll admit to being against the whaling expedition, the Japanese vessels are completely and utterly in the right here. The SSCS, while it having a reasonable goal of stopping whaling activities, has gone about reaching that goal in an illegal and immensely dangerous fashion. The SSCS has damaged the anti-whaling community by its actions. Even Greenpeace, which has been involved in some rather radical anti-whaling action recently, refused to share the location of the whaling fleet with the group in fear of them doing something as stupid and dangerous as they just did.
If these jerks threw acid, or even stink bombs, at a vessel and its crew and then tried to board it uninvited, there is no way to interpret that as legal, wise, or in any way right. They would have deserved to get themselves thrown overboard like any other pirate would, and if they got beaten up a bit it was justifiable and should have been expected. I doubt the SSCS would be offering fluffy towels and glasses of tea to the Japanese if they shot a harpoon at them and jumped aboard the Steve Irwin. Why should the SSCS expect special treatment when they commit a crime?