Australia orders Japanese whalers to stay away

Minister says support vessel for whaling fleet, which entered country's economic zone near Macquarie Island, is not welcome

Australia has demanded Japan's whalers leave the southern ocean, after a support vessel for the fleet was found to have entered its waters in pursuit of environmental activists.

The Australian environment minister, Tony Burke, told the whalers they were not welcome in the region following confirmation that the Shonan Maru No 2 had entered the country's exclusive economic zone near Macquarie Island.

"Australia has made it clear to Japan on a number of occasions that vessels associated with its whaling programme are not welcome," Burke said in a statement. "Our embassy in Tokyo has conveyed these sentiments directly to the Japanese government."

The Japanese vessel provides security for the rest of the fleet, which sails to the Southern Ocean every winter to conduct what Tokyo calls scientific research.

The fleet hopes to catch 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales before returning to port in the spring. For the past two years, however, catches have been far lower than planned after clashes with activists from the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd.

The Shonan Maru No 2 tailed the Bob Barker, a Sea Shepherd vessel, for two days earlier this week, according to the group. It remained inside Australia's exclusive economic zone, which stretches 200 nautical miles from Macquarie Island. The Japanese ship stopped just short of Australian territorial waters, which extend 12 nautical miles from the island.

"Tokyo has ignored the call from the federal government for this part of the whaling fleet not to enter the zone," Bob Brown, the former Australian Green party leader, who now leads Sea Shepherd's anti-whaling campaign, told Australian radio.

The body that organises Japan's "scientific" hunts said the fleet had the legal right to enter the zone, and accused Sea Shepherd of using dangerous tactics to stop the hunt.

"Since Sea Shepherd has been putting Japanese lives and property at risk, it's been necessary to move as close to Australian territorial waters as possible to keep an eye on them," Glenn Inwood, a spokesman for the Institute of Cetacean Research, told Associated Press.

Australia, the most vocal international opponent of Japan's whaling programme, has taken its campaign to ban the annual hunts to the international court of justice in The Hague.

The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, but Japan uses a clause in the moratorium to conduct "lethal research". Meat from the hunts is sold on the open market.

Sea Shepherd, whose members have frustrated the Japanese fleet every winter for the past several years, said it would continue its campaign this season, despite a US court decision late last year banning its vessels from sailing within 500 yards of the whalers.


Justin McCurry in Tokyo

The GuardianTramp

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