A US court has ordered environmental group Sea Shepherd to maintain a distance of 500 yards from Japanese whaling ships, in a move welcomed by those behind the government-funded fleet.
The injunction was ordered by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in the latest step in a legal battle between the anti-whaling group and Japanese authorities over vessels in the Southern Ocean.
Sea Shepherd and militant conservationist Paul Watson, who is wanted by Interpol, “are enjoined from physically attacking any vessel engaged by plaintiffs,” who include Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research, it said.
In addition they are banned from “navigating in a manner that is likely to endanger the safe navigation of any such vessel,” said the order, issued on Monday.
“In no event shall defendants approach plaintiffs any closer than 500 yards (meters) when defendants are navigating on the open sea,” added the ban, also listing plaintiffs Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha, Ltd., Tomoyuki Ogawa and Toshiyuki Miura.
In a statement the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) and Kyodo Senpaku (KS) said they “welcome” the injunction, which remains in force until the US court issues its opinion on the currently-pending appeal, it said.
They noted they recently asked the court to “expedite its review because the Sea Shepherd had launched its sabotage vessels and announced its intention once again to take physical action against the Japanese research vessels.”
Confrontations between the whalers and activists have escalated in recent years and the Japanese cut their hunt short in early 2011 due to Sea Shepherd harassment.
Japan hunts whales using a loophole in a global moratorium that allows killing the sea mammals for what it calls “scientific research,” although the meat is later sold openly in shops and restaurants.
Canadian militant Watson confirmed this month that he is back onboard a Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessel and ready to confront Japanese whalers.
His whereabouts had been a mystery since July when he jumped bail in Germany, where he was arrested on charges stemming from a high-seas confrontation over shark finning in 2002.