December 10, 2011

Japan Tosses Lawfare at Sea Shepherd

After piling up deterrents against Sea Shepherd and still running out of options to stop the Ocean’s premier direct-action group, Tokyo recently filed a lawsuit against Captain Paul Watson. Or the Tokyo-funded Institute of Cetacean Research, to be specific. In a joint statement released by the ICR and Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha, proud owner of the factory ship MV Nisshin Maru, defended their actions for “greatly contributing to the advancement of scientific knowledge of whale resources in the Antarctic.”

In order to continue their “research,” ICR and Kyodo Senpaku “are seeking a court order in the US District Court in Seattle, Washington that prevents SSCS and its founder Paul Watson from engaging in activities at sea that could cause injuries to the crews and damage to the vessels."

A savvy political thinker and tireless propagandist, Watson quickly responded with tempered amusement before systematically refuting the ICR’s “life-threatening” charges. Sea Shepherd’s tactics are designed to be non-lethal, even the various projectiles hurled onto the deck, and each sides has brought their vessels into contact with the other. Watson also defended Sea Shepherd from a political and moral standpoint, saying, “We are not down there protesting whaling, we are down there intervening against criminal activities.”

“We defend ourselves from being rammed, hit with water cannons, shot at, have concussion grenades and bamboo spears thrown at us, so yes, we defend ourselves,” he said.

Watson doesn’t expect anything to come of the ICR’s legal action. Calling the lawsuit “frivolous,” the primary documented incident involving Pete Bethune’s Ady Gil is too disputed for a jury to reach a verdict. Watson also claims to have registered and flagged his vessels outside of America, giving them “no authority over these ships so I don't know what they are hoping to achieve.” Watson also jabbed the Japanese court system: “Unlike Japan, the courts in the United States don’t automatically do what the government demands that they do.”

The ICR did get at least one thing right though: "Sabotage activities against the research fleet by SSCS and Paul Watson have been escalating over several years.” As the asymmetric side of the Southern Ocean, Watson has gradually built a small armada to compete with the ICR’s 5-6 ships. The ICR has responded with swarm tactics, ramming feigns and its own projectiles, and Tokyo deployed a patrol boat and armed guards to protect this year’s fleet. Both sides are intensifying their operations, leaving the ICR “with no choice but to file the safety-at-sea lawsuit.”

Tokyo is obviously exploring every avenue it can find to defeat what it perceives as a ragtag bunch of pirates. Watson explains how the ICR continues to operate despite missing its quota and a falling demand for whale meat: government subsidies. According to the Sea Shepherd’s admiral, the ICR was allocated $30 million just to deter his group from obstructing the back end of a whaling ship. These measures, in the Sea Shepherds terms, include “armed Security ships, mercenary thugs, Coast Guard officers, heavy weight public relations firms, and lawyers!”

Unlike other conventional actors caught in an asymmetric war, the ICR continues to fight along 4GW lines. Politically active in the IWO and Pacific countries in general, Tokyo exploits its technological and financial edge while doggedly pursuing non-military options. The ICR’s latest lawsuit means nothing in itself - buoys tossed in front of the Sea Shepherd’s steaming vessels. “This is simply a case of using the courts to harass us,” Watson cooly explained.

Perceived strategically, though, and Japan’s lawfare must be recognized on a 4G level.

The ICR recently launched another attack of greater consequence, one that received far less attention in the media and could have put a dagger into Operation Divine Wind. On Tuesday the Sea Shepherd’s invaluable helicopter pilot, Chris Aultman, informed reporters by email that his Australian visa had been denied. Aultman’s visa has been approved since 2005, but he didn’t “receive any information about why it was denied or when it will be issued.” Watson attributed the move to “the Japanese ambassador to Australia making phone calls,” and reflected on the time that he too was temporarily denied a visa.

Watson doesn’t hide his displeasure of the Australian government, but he does possess connections on the inside; the same man who would lobby his own case cleared Aultman for landing three days later. Australian Greens Leader Bob Brown defended Sea Shepherd’s actions while criticizing the patrol boat send by Japan’s Fishing Ministry: “The Australian Government must have a plan in place to ensure safety as the Sea Shepherd fleet prepares to leave Australian ports to defend hundreds of whales from Japanese whaling ships.”

Barring a reduction in either side’s fleet or a change in the terms of engagement, the coming winter battle will further escalate an asymmetric conflict in the South Ocean. Each side continues to improve its tactics, increase its numbers and boost its psychological state. Tokyo cannot stomach the possibility of defeat at the hands of Sea Shepherd; Sea Shepherd believes it sees light at the end of its tunnel. Both sides are prepared to raise the stakes rather than quit.

Although time and public awareness appear to favor Sea Shepherd, Japan possesses the national patience and determination to wage a protracted campaign.

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