Anti-whale slaughter protesters must raise $1.4m bond to free Steve Irwin following lawsuit

, by , in Fishing & Sea

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society must raise a bond of US$1.4 million if it wants to avoid its flagship vessel Steve Irwin being held in Shetland indefinitely due to legal action brought against the radical protest group by a Maltese fishing company.

Captain of the ship and founder of the organisation Paul Watson has issued an urgent appeal to supporters to raise the cash, which would allow it to leave Shetland and continue with its planned campaign against the annual slaughter of pilot whales in Faroe. Its smaller vessel Brigitte Bardot left Shetland for Faroe on Sunday morning.

The Steve Irwin has been detained since Friday afternoon after a civil lawsuit was brought against it in the UK courts by the Maltese company Fish & Fish, which is claiming damages over action taken against its bluefin tuna fleet in the Mediterranean in June 2010.

On Tuesday evening the Steve Irwin was moved from its berth at Holmsgarth over to Heogan in Bressay to make way for the arriving tall ships.

LPA chief executive Sandra Laurenson said the port authority had “no thoughts one way or another about any of our clients”, but when ships were arrested it tended to be a “menace” if berths were required for other purposes. “It is a nuisance when ships get arrested and lie around for any length of time,” she said.

The Fish & Fish lawsuit alleges that Sea Shepherd campaigners damaged property belonging to Fish & Fish when the Steve Irwin rammed their tuna pen on the high seas in the Mediterranean last year. It claims that a combination of the damage caused to its net and the loss of 600 valuable fish, with a weight of 35 tonnes, amounted to US$1.4 million, around £875,000.

Appealing for financial help on the group’s website, Mr Watson said the case would be “aggressively defended”. He believes Sea Shepherd has gathered enough evidence to demonstrate that Fish & Fish had been acting illegally by catching tuna after the season had ended.

Though Mr Watson has insisted in recent days that Sea Shepherd will not be deterred in its efforts to save the lives of endangered whales, he has been forced to admit that if the bond cannot be raised there is a danger of the Steve Irwin having to be sold.

“Now, unless we post a bond for US$1,411,692.87, the Steve Irwin will be held indefinitely and possibly sold,” he told supporters. “This would not only be a financial hardship for Sea Shepherd, but more importantly, it could prevent us from reaching the Faroe Islands to protect pilot whales and threaten our ability to defend whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary from the Japanese whaling fleet this December.”