Illegally and covertly boarding a ship at sea is an act of piracy . . .
No, it isn’t. If it were, stowaways would be pirates. But they aren’t.
Piracy requires robbery with violence, or an attempt to seize control of the vessel with violence. Simply boarding a vessel is not piracy. Even boarding with violence is not piracy (though of course there was no violence in this instance).
The charge which the Japanese government considered bringing against the boarding party was trespass, not piracy.
. . . and the crew of the boarded ship have every justification for taking drastic action, even if this results in the death of one or all of the boarding group.
The crew have no way of knowing the intentions of persons boarding their ship clandestinely from an unlighted vessel.
To assume that they are friendly may have fatal consequences for the ship and its crew.
Anyone in fear of their life from an unidentified attacker is allowed to defend themselves.
Tell you what; run that defence at your trial, and we’ll see how it goes, shall we?
Back in the real world, the law of the sea is clear on this. The master of a vessel is justified in using reasonable force to exercise his authority over everyone on the ship, including uninvited boarders. In the event, the boarders offered no resistance of any kind to the master’s exercise of authority, and they were subjugated within seconds of boarding.
The Japanese master knew who the boarders were and where they came from; he had been shadowing their vessel, the Steve Irwin
, for several days, and this was not the first occasion on which the vessel had been boarded by Sea Shepherd activists. The purpose of the exercise was in fact to oblige the Japanese vessel to call off the pursuit (by creating a need for the vessel to take the boarders to Fremantle for offloading).
In these circumstances, if he shot the boarding party and then claimed that he thought they were pirates, nobody would take him seriously for an instant. Even if it wasn't immediately obvious that they came from the Steve Irwin
, the master of an ocean-going vessel is expected to be aware that there are no pirates operating off Bunbury.