Marine defence group Sea Shepherd has won a lawsuit filed against it by a Maltese fisheries company for releasing hundreds of bluefin tuna from pens off the coast of Libya in June 2010.
The ruling, given on Monday, June 25, at the Admiralty Court in London, was that the UK Court was not the proper place to file the suit. Mr Justice Hamblin ordered the case against the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Sea Shepherd UK, and Captain Paul Watson dismissed.
Sea Shepherd admit to freeing 800 large bluefin tuna, saying the fish were caught after the fishing season had ended.
“What we did in 2010 we have no apologies for,” Watson said in a press release. “We freed 800 large endangered bluefin tuna illegally caught by poachers off the coast of Libya. We cut the nets and when the Maltese company that claimed ownership of these liberated fish sued us, we stood our ground in court and we won, the tuna won, and the poachers lost.”
Fish and Fish, who brought the suit, claim the fish were netted before the European Commission closed the purse seiner tuna fishing season on midnight June 10, 2010.
The company was using a purse seining method of fishing where nets hang from floats on the surface water and are weighed to create a net wall. When fish have assembled, the top of the nets are drawn into a circle and the base tied.
Dolphins are often trapped with this method and quotas are restricted. The season lasts about two weeks. Fishing from poles where fish are caught singly is allowed at other times.
The Fish and Fish vessels towed the catch to circular, rigid holding pens off the Libyan coast. Sea Shepherd divers cut through these pens to release the bluefins.
Although legislation is on the international statute books, it is only lightly policed. The Libyan Search and Rescue Centre is responsible for the waters where the conflict happened.
It failed to take notice of warnings from the Fish and Fish vessels that they were being threatened by the Steve Irwin, the Sea Shepherd ship.
There are claims and counter-claims about what happened between the two organisations.
Sea Shepherd had a helicopter and dingies and said the Steve Irwin was rammed by a Fish and Fish tug, which caused it to plough into the pens’ walkway on which some fisheries personnel were working. The fisheries company say Sea Shepherd are pirates and used rubber bullets and tear gas. Sea Shepherd say they dropped bottles of rotten butter onto the deck of a fishery vessel when it got too close, according to the Times of Malta.
Two men were air lifted from a fishery vessel, one with an arm injury reported to have been ripped by one of the Steve Irwin crew with a long fish hook. Another fisheries man had a bandaged hand.
After diplomatic messages from the Maltese government to Libya, the Libyan Navy saw off the Steve Irwin but the fish had escaped.
The Steve Irwin is registered in Holland where Fish and Fish queried the registration. The Steve Irwin is named after the Australian conservationist killed by a stingray in 2006.
It was at a court session in Edinburgh in July 2011 that a bond was put on the Steve Irwin. The ship was in the Shetlands waiting to go to help with a demonstration off the Faroe Islands.
The bond was for £520,000 and it looked like the ship would have to be sold. A campaign was mounted and the full bond was raised by supporters in 10 days.
The bond has now been returned to Sea Shepherd pending the result of a Fish and Fish appeal to a higher court.
Fish and Fish are to pay an estimated £200,000 towards Sea Shepherd’s legal costs.
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