Professor Sterio Publishes Post on Maritime Piracy: Are Sea Shepherds Pirates?

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Sea Shepherds Engaging a Japanese Whaling Vessel

Professor and Associate Dean Milena Sterio published a blog post on Communis Hostis Omnium, an academic blog dedicated to a discussion of maritime piracy legal issues, entitled “Are Sea Shepherds Pirates? The United States Supreme Court May Decide Soon.”  In this post, Professor Sterio discusses a recent petition for a writ of certiorari, filed by Sea Shepherds, a marine conservationist not-for-profit organization, asking the Supreme Court to review a Ninth Circuit decision and injunction.

The Ninth Circuit had issued an injunction sua sponte against Sea Shepherds, prohibiting them from approaching Japanese whaling vessels and from engaging in any violent activity against such vessels in the Pacific Ocean.  The Ninth Circuit had determined, in this case, that Sea Shepherds were pirates under international treaty law (because they engage in violent activities on the high seas committed for private ends), and that because of the piracy categorization, the United States’ courts could exercise extra-territorial jurisdiction necessary to support the enforcement of this overseas injunction under the so-called Alien Tort Statute.  The piracy categorization is problematic in this case, because it is unclear under international law whether private parties, such as Sea Shepherds, acting for non-pecuniary goals, are truly acting for private ends (does private ends imply that parties are acting for truly private goals, such as robbery/pecuniary gain?) and what level of violence is necessary to support a finding of piracy (do acts such as ramming whaling vessels, which are mildly violent yet fall short of more violent acts of “traditional” piracy, such as robbery/murder/setting vessels on fire, suffice for a finding of piracy?).  Professor Sterio’s post explores these issues in the context of the above-mentioned petition for a writ of certiorari filed by Sea Shepherds and their attorneys.

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