There's very little grey area here. Depending on your perspective, either the Japanese are poachers who are killing whales in a sanctuary or the activists are pirates endangering human lives to save whales.
Both sides have provided video to show the drama playing out in Antarctica's southern ocean Monday. The Sea Shepherd ship can be seen in the middle, trying to prevent the whaling factory ship on the left from getting fuel from the ship on the right, when they collide.
Did the Japanese ship hit Sea Shepherd or were the activists at fault?
Lawyers for the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research filed suit in Seattle, trying to stop the activists from targeting their ships. When they lost, the Japanese took the case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"That activity in these waters is inherently dangerous and they attempt it time and time again," the whalers' attorney John Neupert said.
The three-judge panel agreed. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote this week, "You don't need a peg leg or an eye patch. When you ram ships; hurl glass containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be."
Sea Shepherd's director of intelligence and investigations told the I-Team the appeals court ruling is ludicrous.
"It's certainly not piracy; we're not boarding any vessels, we're not plundering any gold, we're not carrying automatic weapons, we're not hurting anybody," Scott West said.
An international ban on commercial whaling took effect in 1986, but this year, the Japanese plan on taking 935 minke whales, 50 humpbacks and 50 fin whales in the name of research. The whale meat winds up as food in Japan.
"When the poachers come into United States court and when their attorney comes into United States court and makes the statement that the killing of these whales down in Antarctica is for research, it's simply a lie," West said.
But the appeals court made it clear their ruling is not a statement about whaling -- they're sending a message that they will not tolerate piracy. So, the court affirmed an injunction barring Sea Shepherd U.S. from approaching the Japanese ships.
"We did comply with the injunction, Sea Shepherd United States has not come anywhere near those vessels, certainly not within 500 yards, and those vessels are not owned by Sea Shepherd United States, they're owned by Australia and Netherlands, where they're flagged," West said.
So, the activists are back in the southern ocean with their zero tolerance campaign. They've already failed in that mission -- to prevent the Japanese from taking any whales, but they are having a huge impact on the whaling operation. The Japanese crews have beefed up their defenses this year, including high-pressure water cannons, piercing acoustic defenses, and flash-bang grenades.
The battle rages on, while the court drama plays out. Sea Shepherd says they'll take the case to an 11-judge appeals court panel next.