Governments urge restraint in whaling protests

7th December 2009, Comments 0 comments

The Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia governments stress they condemn all forms of dangerous or violent activities by demonstrators and whalers in Southern Ocean.

Sydney – Militant protesters opposed to Japanese whaling left for the Southern Ocean Monday as New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands urged them to avoid violent confrontations.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's ship Steve Irwin sailed from Fremantle in Western Australia to confront a fleet of Japanese whaling ships that left Japan on 19 November to harpoon hundreds of whales in Antarctic waters over coming months.

Harassment of the Japanese fleet last year led to a collision between the Steve Irwin and a whaling ship, with both sides blaming the other and trading accusations of recklessness.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully, his Australian counterpart Stephen Smith and Maxime Verhagen of the Netherlands said they respected the right to protest.

"At the same time, we do not condone -- indeed we condemn -- dangerous or violent activities, by any of the parties involved, be it demonstrators or whalers," they said in a joint statement.

"Our governments expect any unlawful activity to be dealt with in accordance with relevant international and domestic laws."

The three governments said the Southern Ocean was a remote and inhospitable region where the risk of mishaps was high and there was little ability to launch any rescue.

"Our governments jointly call upon all parties to exercise restraint and to ensure that safety at sea is the highest priority," the ministers said.

The three governments said they remained "resolutely opposed" to Japanese whaling but added they believed diplomacy offered the best hope for progress.

Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson dismissed the governments' statement and accused them of doing nothing practical to stop Japanese whaling.

"These governments don't seem to understand that we're not going there to protest, we're going there to do the job they should be doing," Watson said.

"I don't understand the attitude of foreign ministers who seem more interested in scratching their backs than upholding international law."

Although there is an international moratorium on commercial whaling, Japan uses a loophole to kill hundreds of whales a year in the Southern Ocean for "scientific research".

This year the Steve Irwin will be joined by a super-fast triple-hulled powerboat, the New Zealand-registered Ady Gil, to boost Sea Shepherd's campaign to disrupt the whaling.

Formerly known as Earthrace, the boat named after Sea Shepherd's California-based benefactor, is capable of speeds of up to 50 knots.

Last year Earthrace circumnavigated the globe in a record time of just under 61 days.

The Ady Gil, which is due to leave Hobart Tuesday for the Southern Ocean, will try to block the whalers' attempts to harpoon whales by getting between them and the massive sea mammals.

The Steve Irwin, with a crew of 41, expects to reach the Japanese ships in eight to 10 days and aims to stay in Antarctic waters for around three months.

During their five-month hunt last season, the Japanese fleet caught 679 minke whales and one fin whale -- below the planned haul of between 765 and 935 whales, Japan's fisheries agency said.

During Sea Shepherd's campaign, activists were also accused of hurling stink bombs and rancid butter at the whalers, who allegedly deployed ear-piercing sonic weapons against them.

AFP / Expatica

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