SEATTLE, Washington, June 10, 2015 (ENS) – Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a U.S. nonprofit marine conservation group, will pay two Japanese entities $2.55 million to resolve a legal dispute over whaling in the Southern Ocean.

Last December, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, founder Paul Watson and the former directors were found in civil contempt of a temporary injunction issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2012 ordering Sea Shepherd vessels to stay 500 yards away from Japanese whaling vessels in the Southern Ocean.

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Sea Shepherd ship, painted black, confronts two Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean. (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd)

In exchange for the $2.55 million payment to Japan’s nonprofit Institute for Cetacean Research and for profit Kyodo Senpaku, they will dismiss their action for more than $4.1 million in damages related to contempt and drop all claims against the former Sea Shepherd board of directors, all parties announced Monday.

The nonprofit Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research, ICR, conducts lethal whaling for “research” purposes, and Kyodo Senpaku, a for-profit company, conducts the collection, processing and selling of whale byproducts on behalf of the ICR.

The two Japanese organizations said in a statement today, “Sea Shepherd admitted in court that the vessels Steve Irwin, Bob Barker, Sam Simon and Brigitte Bardot all breached the 500 yard perimeter established by the court.”

The settlement figure of $2.55 million was agreed in negotiations among the parties that have taken place since the court’s ruling on December 19, 2014. It is due on or before July 1, 2015

Sea Shepherd says funding for the settlement will come from money from other legal actions and settlements, and will not include donor funds.

“Sea Shepherd does not agree with the Ninth Circuit’s holding that it was in contempt, but after more than two years of litigation, we are very pleased to be putting the contempt action behind us,” said Claire Loebs Davis, Sea Shepherd legal counsel and partner at Lane Powell, a Pacific Northwest law firm.

The temporary injunction was issued on the eve of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Zero Tolerance campaign planned to intervene against ICR’s whaling in the Southern Ocean during the 2012-2013 season.

In response, Sea Shepherd withdrew from Operation Zero Tolerance and all future Southern Ocean whale-protection campaigns, but the campaigns continued under the leadership of “independent foreign groups” such as Sea Shepherd Australia.

ICR filed a motion for contempt in early 2013, and after an eight-day trial, an Appellate Commissioner recommended that neither Sea Shepherd nor any of its affiliates be found in contempt.

But in December 2014, the Ninth Circuit disregarded this recommendation and found Sea Shepherd, Watson, and the former members of the Sea Shepherd Board of Directors in contempt of the injunction based on the actions of the foreign groups.

ICR is still seeking a permanent injunction against Sea Shepherd in U.S. District Court in Seattle to keep Sea Shepherd, Paul Watson and any person acting in concert with them from approaching within 500 yards of the vessels operated by ICR and KS on the high seas in the Southern Ocean, physically attacking them or interfering with their safe navigation, and from raising money for those activities.

In a related development, the U.S. Supreme Court June 8 rejected a request by Sea Shepherd to review the Ninth Circuit’s contempt decision.

Sea Shepherd is continuing its own legal action against Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean.

Attorney Loebs Davis says the group seeks “to expose ICR’s dangerous and illegal activities in the Southern Ocean – including the violent actions taken against those who have tried to stop it from killing whales in violation of international law.”

In a case set for trial in the fall of 2016, Sea Shepherd is seeking a declaration that ICR’s whaling in the Southern Ocean is illegal under international law. The group seeks an injunction preventing ICR from using violent and dangerous tactics to protect its illegal activities.

Sea Shepherd also is asking the district court to award damages for ICR’s “deliberate ramming” of the Sea Shepherd vessel Ady Gil in 2009 in an action that destroyed the small, fast vessel.

“It is crucial that Sea Shepherd be able to support its direct-action campaigns on the seas with forceful action in the courts, against those who plunder the world’s oceans in violation of international law,” said Sea Shepherd founder and board advisor Captain Paul Watson.

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Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson aboard the Steve Irwin in the Southern Ocean, 2009 (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd)

“We never expected our efforts to stop illegal whaling in the Southern Ocean to be easy. After all, we have been challenging one of the world’s economic super powers for over a decade,” Watson said.

“We weathered the violence directed at us by the whalers, we weathered the storms, the ice, the politics and the legal assaults directed at us,” said Watson. “In the end we prevailed where it was most important, in the fact that thousands of whales that would otherwise be dead are alive and free in the Southern Ocean, and Japanese whaling has been internationally exposed as an illegal operation by both the International Court of Justice and the International Whaling Commission.”

The ongoing legal dispute arises from Japan’s long-running violation of the International Whaling Commission’s global ban on commercial whaling, established in 1986.

Since 1987, Japan has granted “scientific research” permits for Japanese organizations to kill whales and sell their meat on the commercial market.

In recent years, these permits have allowed ICR to kill more than 1,000 whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary each year, including minke, humpback and endangered fin whales, although Sea Shepherd says its interference campaigns have save many thousands of those whales.

Last year, the International Court of Justice declared Japan’s “research” rationale to be a sham, and ruled that Japanese whale hunts violate international law.

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