Inst. of Cetacean Research v. Sea Shepherd

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Admiralty
  • Date Filed: 02-25-2013
  • Case #: 12-35266
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Chief Circuit Judge Kozinski for the Court; Circuit Judge Tashima; Partial Concurrence and Partial Dissent by Circuit Judge M. Smith
  • Full Text Opinion

A piracy claim requires acts "committed for private ends... [which] include those pursued on personal, moral or philosophical grounds." Belief that your actions serve the public does not insulate them from piracy claims.

The Institute of Cetacean Research (“Cetacean”) is a group of “Japanese researchers who hunt whales in the Southern Ocean.” Hunting whales is illegal unless conducted pursuant to a research permit issued under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. Cetacean has a valid permit. Despite this valid permit, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (“Sea Shepherd”) has rammed Cetacean ships, “hurl[ed] glass containers of acid, drag[ed] metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders,[and] launch[ed] smoke bombs and flares with hooks” in an effort to slow down and stop Cetacean from hunting whales. Cetacean brought suit in district court “under the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C.§1350? which provides relief for torts “committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” Specifically, “Cetacean argue[d] that Sea Shepherd’s acts amount[ed] t piracy and violate[d] international agreements regulating conduct on the high seas.” The district court dismissed Cetacean’s piracy claims and denied requests for a preliminary injunction. The Ninth Circuit determined that the district court, in addressing the merits of a piracy claim, relied on an “erroneous interpretation of private ends and violence.” The Ninth Circuit held that “private ends include those pursued on personal, moral or philosophical grounds, such as Sea Shepherd’s professed environmental goals.” Sea Shepherd’s belief that their actions served a higher public good does not insulate them from a piracy claim. The Ninth Circuit also reversed the district court’s denial of Cetacean’s preliminary injunction. The Ninth Circuit found that “Sea Shepherd’s activities clearly violate the UNCLOS, the SUA Convention and the COLREGS;” putting Sea Shepherd “at loggerheads with the public interest of the United States and all other seafaring nations in safe navigation of the high seas.” REVERSED.

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