The Steve Irwin in Fremantle, Australia. CREDIT: Sea Shepherd FB photo

US conservation group Sea Shepherd vowed to fight a court order to

stay at least 500 yards away from Japanese whaling ships, and to keep

protecting whales "with our ships and our lives".

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.

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It said

Sea Shepherd and Canadian militant conservationist Paul Watson, who is

wanted by Interpol, "are enjoined from physically attacking any vessel

engaged by plaintiffs", including Japan's Institute of Cetacean


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," it added. The joint

plaintiffs are Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha, Ltd., Tomoyuki Ogawa and Toshiyuki


In a statement, the Institute of Cetacean Research and

Kyodo Senpaku said they "welcome" the injunction, which remains in force

until the US court issues its opinion on the currently pending appeal.


Numata, an official in charge of whaling at the Japan's Fisheries

Agency, told AFP in Tokyo: "Sea Shepherd carries out sabotage in the

form of acts of violence that endanger the life and assets of the

research fleet and its crew.

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"We hope that the injunction will

help the whaling and research mission in the Antarctic Ocean to be

conducted safely and smoothly."

Charles Moure, an attorney for

Oregon-based Sea Shepherd, told AFP in an email that the court

injunction was "very disappointing," adding: "We intend to fight the


It was not immediately clear what impact the ruling would have, or how it would be enforced.


follows the issuing in August of an arrest notice by Interpol for

Watson, Sea Shepherd's founder, who had jumped bail in Germany in July.

He had been arrested there on charges from Costa Rica relating to a high-seas confrontation over shark finning in 2002.

In a statement on its website, Sea Shepherd called the new US court ruling "the first shot of the season" by Japanese whalers.


is a complex situation whereby a United States Court is issuing an

injunction against Dutch and Australian vessels carrying an

international crew, operating out of Australia and New Zealand in

international waters," it said.

"In addition the Court has ignored

the fact that the Japanese whalers are in contempt of a court order by

the Australian Federal Court and the whaling takes place in the Southern

Ocean Whale Sanctuary."

It vowed to continue to protect whales in

the Southern Ocean, saying that Japan's fleet "will find when they

arrive that we will still be there guarding the Southern Ocean Whale

Sanctuary with our ships and our lives.

"We will defend these

whales as we have for the last eight years — non-violently and

legally," said Watson, quoted in the statement.

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between the whalers and activists have escalated in recent years, and

the Japanese cut their hunt short in early 2011 due to Sea Shepherd


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.

Watson, whose whereabouts had been a mystery

since July, confirmed this month that he is back onboard a Sea Shepherd

vessel and ready to confront Japanese whalers.

Sea Shepherd's

ninth campaign, named Operation Zero Tolerance, is its largest ever

against Japan's whale hunt and involves four ships, a helicopter, three

drones and more than 100 crew members.

Three of the vessels, the

Steve Irwin, Bob Barker and Brigitte Bardot, are all at sea while the

Sam Simon is at an undisclosed location.

– by AFP