Japan coast guard braces for whaling meeting

JAPAN: April 19, 2002

TOKYO - The Japanese Coast Guard said yesterday it was tightening security near the site of the annual International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting that starts next week in anticipation of protests. The always controversial gathering, being held this year in the southwestern city of Shimonoseki, is likely to be especially tense because of host-country Japan's staunch pro-whaling stance.

A special, temporary security headquarters had been set up in the city of Kita-kyushu, which faces Shimonoseki across the narrow Kanmon Straits, some 830 km (520 miles) southwest of Tokyo, a coast guard spokesman said.

"The area is a very busy shipping lane, and the tide is also treacherous. We hope to maintain security and safety during the meeting, particularly given the chance of protests," the spokesman said.

Patrols by boats and helicopters would be increased, he said, but declined to give further details.

Many Japanese like to eat whale, which was an important source of protein for an impoverished nation just after World War Two but has become a pricey gourmet food since Japan abandoned commercial whaling in 1986 in line with an IWC moratorium.

Japan has infuriated conservationists since 1987 by continuing to hunt, saying it is carrying out research whaling. Activists charge that much of the meat is eaten.

Along with fellow whaler Norway, Japan counters by arguing that some whales, such as the minkes, are in no danger of dying out and that hunting within limits should be permitted, although agreeing that endangered species should be protected.

They intend to press for the resumption of commercial whaling at the IWC meeting. Environmental groups such as Greenpeace have often carried out water-borne protests against international meetings, and Greenpeace sent its flagship "Rainbow Warrior" to the summit of Group of Eight leaders on the Japanese island of Okinawa in 2000.

Activists say protests at this year's IWC are likely to be low-key. The IWC gathering opens on April 25 with the meeting of the Minke Assessment Group and continues through May with meetings of the scientific committee and other sub-groups.

The main annual meeting will take place from May 20 to May 24.