Sea Shepherd's ramming action in June 2010 (Photo: Barbara Veiga)
Maltese tuna ranchers Fish & Fish will have to pay some €250,000 of marine conservation organisation Sea Shepherd's legal fees after a UK court threw out their lawsuit.
Fish & Fish claimed they incurred €1 million in damages to bluefin tuna ranching gear by Sea Shepherd in the Mediterranean last year when the organisation's flagship vessel Steve Irwin rammed their tuna pen on the high seas.
The Maltese ranchers successfully secured the arrest of the ship on pain of a €1 million garnishee order which Sea Shepherd managed to pay through an internet donation campaign in only 10 days from Sea Shepherd supporters worldwide.
The Sea Shepherd action in 2010, part of their Operation Blue Rage campaign, had freed 800 bluefin tuna ranched by Fish & Fish, which they claimed had been illegally caught.
Mr Justice Hamblin of the Admiralty Court announced his decision Wednesday morning in a London court, saying the UK court was not the proper place to file the suit against Sea Shepherd and ordered the case against the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Sea Shepherd U.K. and Captain Paul Watson dismissed.
Fish & Fish have requested an appeal but the judge refused the appeal. Fish & Fish may still appeal the ruling to a higher court.
Pending a possible appeal, Sea Shepherd will have the €1 million bond returned, but Fish & Fish were ordered by the judge pay a percentage of Sea Shepherd's legal fees in the case, which the organisation says could amount to over €250,000.
"What we did in 2010 we have no apologies for," Sea Shepherd's founder, Captain Paul Watson (pictured, left), said.
In June 2010 the Steve Irwin had rammed the pen owned by Fish and Fish to free the bluefin tuna its crew believed was caught illegally, seriously injuring a Maltese diver in the process.
At the time, Rural Affairs Ministry had defended the fishing operation, insisting all the paperwork was in order, and condemned the attack.
Fish and Fish had estimated that the cost of losing 600 fish, weighing some 35 tons, coupled with the damage caused and the lawsuit, would reach €1 million.
"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.
"Our British lawyers did an excellent job. I am confident that if an appeal is granted, we will see the appeal court upholding this ruling. Bottom line and most importantly, the fish were freed and the company failed to recover their requested losses for their illegal catch."
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said it will continue to "aggressively oppose the illegal exploitation of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean" and that it is seeking a vessel dedicated to the protection and conservation of biodiversity in the Mediterranean Sea.