Thursday, February 28, 2013

Piracy on the High Seas

By Rich Kozlovich

It turns out that on Monday the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a ruling on something many of us have been saying for years.  The Sea Shepherds are “pirates”!   They're activities are now defined by the United States as being illegal actions on the high seas, with Chief Judge Alex Kozinski ,in agreement with the Japanese groups filing the suit against Sea Shepherd, saying;

"You don't need a peg leg or an eye patch," he wrote, according to AP. "When you ram ships; hurl glass containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be."

Variation of the flag used
 by Sea Shepard
International  in the past

Most of us will remember the television show “Whale Wars” headed up by Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherd organization, whose purpose is to disrupt the annual whale hunt in Antarctica waters. I remember watching it and thinking; how can anyone not perceive this as piracy, especially since they attacked these ships while not flying a flag of any nation.  Technically that in itself made them pirates, until 2008, when, it is my understanding, they started flying the flag of the Netherlands.  Well, flying a nation’s flag or not, it’s the actions that constitute maritime piracy which is defined as; “The act of violence or depredation on the high seas.” 
Watson and his attorneys insist that U.S. courts have no jurisdiction in these waters.  For most of us that would seem to be accurate.  However, piracy on the high seas has been going on forever and as a result the world’s nations decided the only way to effectively combat it was to join in cooperation with other nations.  As for the United States having jurisdiction in these waters;

“The power to criminalize piracy originated in the U.S. Constitution, which was followed by the first federal law in 1790 and crucial revisions over the next sixty years. Additionally, the United States and other nations cooperated to combat piracy in the twentieth century. This resulted in a unique shared view of jurisdiction: piracy on the high seas can be punished by any nation.

Although there have been variations in the laws governing what constitutes piracy, today it is governed by;

“antipiracy law [in] title 18, chapter 81, of the United States Code, although numerous other antipiracy provisions are scattered throughout the code. Additionally, international cooperation has shaped a unique form of jurisdictional agreement among nations. Significant in bringing about this cooperation was the geneva convention on the High Seas of April 29, 1958 and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The primary effect of such agreements is to allow pirates to be apprehended on the high seas—meaning outside of territorial limits—by the authorities of any nation and punished under its own law. This standard is unique because nations are generally forbidden by International Law from interfering with the vessels of another nation on the high sea.

Somehow I don’t think Watson’s argument regarding jurisdiction is going to float.  Now they have been declared, by a standing legal jurisdictional authority, as pirates, and any nation can now take legal action against them if they carry out any “act of violence or depredation on the high seas.”  I they still sink pirate ships.   

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