The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's standing in the United States took a notable turn for the worse late Monday after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals labeled the organization as "pirates."

“You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch,” Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel. “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.”

The 9th U.S. Court of Appeals last December ordered to the SSCS from attacking the whalers or coming within 500 metres of their ships in the Antarctic. In response, the U.S. branch of the Sea Shepherd transferred all power to their Australia division; claiming such a move would honor the court ruling while still allowing them to proceed against the Japanese. 

Since then, the Sea Shepherd and Japanese whalers have had several dangerous clashes - with both sides making claims of intentional collisions and other violent actions. The 9th U.S. District's ruling Monday is in response to Japanese complaints that the SSCS violated the earlier court order. It also overturned an earlier district court ruling which had sided with the activists

"I guess that puts me in the same boat as Johnny Depp," Sea Shepherd co-founder Paul Watson told AAP from aboard the Steve Irwin. "That's an opinion, it's certainly not a judgment.

"He didn't mention anything in there about the fact that the Japanese have destroyed one of our ships (the Ady Gil in 2010), they've thrown concussion grenades at us, hit us with water cannons and laser beams.

"It seems to be a very one-sided opinion."

Dismissing many of Judge Kozinski's violent descriptions of the organization, Watson feels the court is simply misinformed. "The judge obviously has not seen the evidence or the facts; he's just making an opinion based on his own personal prejudices," he said.

And as for the court's ruling impacting his organization's ability to interfere with Japan's whaling operations, Watson remains confident Sea Shepherd Australia remains out of reach.

"The whole thing is irrelevant," he said. "This is beyond the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit Court of the United States."

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