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Injunction Violated: Sea Pirate Hippies Aid Foreign Cousins

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

It's the oldest trick in the book. Your parents tell you not to do something, so you have your brother do it for you.

That's the gist of what happened here. Last year, we brought the tale of the sea pirate hippy bench-slapping, a master class in insulting multiple parties in a single judicial opinion by none other than the great Judge Alex Kozinski. The Kozinski-helmed majority issued an injunction ordering the Sea Shepard Conservation Society to stay away from certain (alleged whaling) ships.

Sea Shepard kinda-sorta complied: They gave their ships and equipment to foreign branches of their organization, which, of course, engaged in activities that would have violated the injunction had Sea Shepard USA done them itself.

Pirates Versus Whale Murderers

"You don't need a peg leg or an eye patch," Judge Kozinski wrote last year. "You are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be."

What was his beef? Kozinski determined that those working for Sea Shepard were sea pirates by law thanks to a series of incidents that included the Sea Shepard ramming ships, flinging projectiles at other ships, destroying propellers, and more.

Of course, their adversaries aren't exactly angels: Sea Shepard claims that its targets are engaged in whaling. Unfortunately, international waters and lax enforcement by other nations (Australia) means that nobody (other than hippy sea pirates) is going to stop them.

Dad Said We Can't Ram Ships Anymore

The lengthy opinion, holding Sea Shepard and a number of associated individuals -- especially its founder Paul Watson -- in contempt of court, sorts through Sea Shepard USA's "separation strategy": a series of actions meant to distance the local branch of the organization from Operation Zero Tolerance (OZT). OZT was designed to thwart the Institute of Cetacean Research's whaling efforts.

OZT resulted in ICR ships blocked from refueling by Sea Shepard Australia and Sea Shepard Netherlands, ships violating the "don't go within 500 yards" injunction (several times over nine days in February 2013), and accidental collisions between the hippies and the whale killers (twice).

The "separation strategy" involved a few resignations from the managing boards for multiple Sea Shepard entities, as well as the transfer of millions of dollars' worth of assets between the USA branch and the foreign branches. In addition, Paul Wilson himself was on one of the ships that collided "as an observer."

Needless to say, the Ninth Circuit didn't buy the ruse.

"Sea Shepherd US did not so much withdraw from OZT as turn the campaign and millions of dollars of assets over to entities it knew would do what the injunction forbade Sea Shepherd US and Watson from doing directly," the court held. "A party 'may not nullify a decree by carrying out prohibited acts through aiders and abettors, although they were not parties to the original proceeding.'" (citing Regal Knitwear.)

What will be the cost of Sea Shepard's indirect activism (and indirect contempt of court)? That remains to be seen -- the Ninth Circuit agreed that attorneys' fees and actual damages would be appropriate to start, but left the finer details regarding amounts, as well as coercive sanctions to prevent future violations, to the lower court.

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