Japan suspends Antarctic whale hunt
January 17, 2008
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
TOKYO - Protesters scored a victory in a high-seas campaign to
disrupt Japan's whale hunt in the Antarctic, forcing the fleet to
a standstill Wednesday while officials scrambled to unload two
activists who used a rubber boat to get on board a harpoon vessel.
The Australian government offered a solution to the standoff,
announcing Thursday it will send the a ship to retrieve the men
and return them to their anti-whaling vessel as soon as the
details can be arranged.
The faceoff over the activists has escalated the annual contest
between the fleet that carries out Japan's controversial whale
hunt in southern waters and the environmentalist groups that try
to stop it.
The founder of the Sea Shepherd anti-whaling group, Paul Watson,
told The Associated Press by satellite phone that the Japanese are
targeting vulnerable whale stocks and said his organization will
keep harassing the fleet.
''We will chase them until they stop their hunt,'' Watson said
from the bridge of the Steve Irwin, a Sea Shepherd vessel. ''As
long as we are chasing them, they aren't killing whales.''
Japanese officials said a Greenpeace boat also was shadowing the
Watson claimed the two activists were being held as ''hostages''
on the Japanese harpoon ship Yushin Maru 2, but no Sea Shepherd
boat had been sent to retrieve them.
Japan condemned the incident, calling the boarding of harpoon boat
an act of ''piracy'' and accusing Sea Shepherd of stalling a
handover of the activists to get publicity.
''These people aren't hostages, they're unwanted guests,'' Japan
Foreign Ministry spokesman Tomohiko Taniguchi said, adding Japan
wanted to hand them off as soon as possible.
The announcement of the Australian ship came hours after Hideki
Moronuki, a spokesman for the Japanese Fisheries Agency's whaling
section, said his country was contacting the Australian government
for help in arranging the return of the men.
Japanese officials said Sea Shepherd must agree not to attack the
whaling vessel during any rendezvous to turn over the two
protesters. Watson refused to comply, demanding an ''unconditional''
''When people hold hostages and make demands, that's the behavior
of a terrorist organization,'' he said. ''I'm not going to
acquiesce to their demands.''
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith called for caution on
''We're dealing with the great distance of the southern ocean. The
capacity for adverse incidents is high, and the capacity for
rescue or assistance is low,'' he said.
An official at the Japanese Fisheries Agency, Takahide Naruko,
said the fleet would not resume its planned hunt of about 1,000
whales until the activists were handed over. He said there was
''no telling what Sea Shepherd would do'' if the fleet hunted with
the activists on board.
The two protesters -- Benjamin Potts, 28, of Australia and Giles
Lane, 35, of Britain -- jumped from a rubber boat onto the deck of
the Yushin Maru 2 in the icy waters off Antarctica on Tuesday
after a high-speed chase.
Sea Shepherd protesters earlier attacked the harpoon ship with
bottles of acid and tried to entangle its propellers, both
Japanese officials and Watson said.
Watson claimed the two activists were not involved in throwing the
acid and said they intended only to board the ship to deliver a
The men were detained and briefly tied up. Watson alleged the
Japanese crew assaulted the activists, which Japanese officials
''It is completely illegal to board anyone's vessel ... on the
high seas,'' said Glenn Inwood, a spokesman for Japan's Institute
for Cetacean Research, which organizes the hunt. ''So this can be
seen as nothing more than an act of piracy by the Sea Shepherd
Japan sent ships to Antarctica in November to kill minke and fin
whales under a program that skirts an international moratorium on
The ban allows limited hunts for scientific research, a loophole
Japan has used to kill nearly 10,000 whales over the past two
decades, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Opponents say Japan's program is commercial whaling in disguise
because the meat is later sold on the market. Environmentalists
say Japan's hunts are detrimental to vulnerable whale populations
in the area.
Japan's top government spokesman defended the catch.
''The activists are obstructing what are legal activities in
international waters, and in an extremely dangerous way,''
Nobutaka Machimura said. ''Japan strongly condemns these actions.''
The whaling fleet's mother ship, the Nisshin Maru, has been chased
435 miles from the standoff scene by a boat belonging to the
environmental group Greenpeace, Japanese officials said.
Despite the disruptions, Japan has no intention of calling off the
hunt, said Taniguchi, the Foreign Ministry spokesman.
''It's clear the situation is very grave,'' he said. ''But I can
tell you, Japan has no plans to quit.''