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The Steve Irwin, owned by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. (Photo: Sea Shepherd)

Sea Shepherd vessel blocked by Maltese tuna fishing firm

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011, 03:20 (GMT + 9)

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s (SSCS) flagship has been detained in Scotland following a legal suit filed by a Maltese bluefin tuna farming company.

Just as the 59-m Steve Irwin was about to depart the Shetland Islands to embark on Operation Ferocious Isles, a campaign targeting the slaughter of pilot whales in the Faroe Islands, two court officials served it with a detainment notice. Maltese company Fish & Fish filed a civil suit in the British High Court claiming that the NGO had damaged its property.

Sea Shepherd and the Maltese aquaculture industry were involved in a quarrel last year over bluefin tuna fishing off the Libyan coast.

During an incident that took place in June of last year, two Maltese divers working onboard a vessel towing a tuna pen were injured in a clash with the NGO’s vessel when it rammed into the pen. Environmental activists freed hundreds of bluefin tuna after insisting that they had been caught illegally, although the fishing crew denied the allegation.

Malta’s Rural Affairs Ministry then defended the company and assured that all the paperwork was in order. Fish & Fish estimated its losses through the cost of losing 600 fish weighing some 35 tonnes plus the damage caused at over EUR 1 million, The Times of Malta reports.

Sea Shepherd has reacted to its flagship’s detainment in the port of Lerwick in the Shetland Islands by saying it is not worried about the suit, as its actions against illegal fishing operations are only conducted after the NGO obtains sufficient evidence to back its case. It says it possesses such evidence against Fish & Fish.

"However, let's not forget that lawsuits can be filed for many reasons,” a SSCS spokesperson said.

“This may have happened for financial redress, or simply because Sea Shepherd has had serious success exposing the illegalities of operations profiting from the destruction of bluefin tuna and they want to interfere with their activities. Either way, Sea Shepherd is confident their defence against this suit is strong," he added.

Sea Shepherd is dealing with the nuisance by launching its scheduled anti-whaling operation on time with another of its vessels: the Brigitte Bardot. The NGO will have to post a bond before the Steve Irwin is released.

“In any campaign, Sea Shepherd must remain flexible and ready to deal with the unexpected. This legal assault by the tuna fishing industry will delay them but will certainly not deter or stop them from defending the whales this summer,”  the spokesperson remarked.

Related articles:

Sea Shepherd sets sail to halt annual whale slaughter 
Tunisian tuna fishers attack Sea Shepherd activists 
Sea Shepherd kicks off bluefin tuna campaign in Libyan waters 

By Natalia Real


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