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Whale Wars: Sea Shepherd lodges piracy charge against Japanese whalers

Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherd Conservation Society allege piracy following the collision between the antiwhaling ship Ady Gil and Japan's Shonan Maru Number 2 earlier this week.

By Staff writer / January 8, 2010

This photo provided by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society shows the sheared off bow of the Ady Gil, after a collision with a Japanese whaling ship in the frigid waters of Antarctica on Wednesday. The conservation group said its ship was deliberately rammed by the Shonan Maru, a Japanese whaling vessel, near Commonwealth Bay.

JoAnne McArthur/Sea Shepherd Conservation Society/AP

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Paul Watson and his antiwhaling Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are keeping up the pressure after the collision earlier this week between their high-tech speedboat the Ady Gil and a larger vessel pulling security for a Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean.

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On Friday, Sea Shepherd filed a legal complaint against the Japanese whaling fleet in the Netherlands, where Mr. Watson's flagship, the Steve Irwin, is registered. "We filed a complaint for criminal prosecution with our prosecutor, requesting the start of an investigation into what we consider to be a crime -- piracy, actually -- committing violence on the high seas," Liesbeth Zegveld, a legal adviser for the group, told Reuters.

Also on Friday, the group announced that it had abandoned efforts to tow the Gil, which had its bow sheered off in the collision, to port. The vessel, which was built for $2.5 million under the moniker Earthrace and circled the globe in a world record 60 days, was donated to Sea Shepherd last year. The boat, which had been currently valued at $1.5 million by Watson, sank after its tow line snapped.

Earlier this week, authorities in New Zealand, where the Gil was registered, and in Australia, which has responsibility for search and rescue operations in the area of the Southern Ocean where the collision took place, said they would investigate the incident. For its part, Japan's Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR), the government-funded body that finances and oversees the country's annual whale hunt, accused Sea Shepherd of "extremist" and illegal behavior.

Will legal charges stick? What does the video indicate?

But it's far from certain that legal filings will lead anywhere, and legal analysts say a charge of piracy against the Maru, which had been consistently harassed by the smaller Gil, is unlikely to stick.

There are two videos of the collision, one from the Japanese ship and one from the larger Sea Shepherd ship, the Bob Barker.

Supporters of Watson's Sea Shepherds say the collision was a result of deliberate action by the Maru. Critics of the group have charged that the Gil's actions made a collision unavoidable.

To this observer, the video is inconclusive.

But the consensus of experienced mariners and sea captains who have e-mailed me is that, while it's the responsibility of all vessels at sea to take every precaution to avoid a collision, and so to a certain extent there is blame to be spread around, that smaller, more maneuverable boats like the Gil are generally expected to have more responsibility for avoiding collisions, since they can turn faster.

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