Friday, January 18, 2008

Sea Shepherd vows to keep disrupting Japanese whalers

A militant anti-whaling group said Friday it would immediately resume harassing Japanese whalers in Antarctic waters after detained activists freed by Tokyo are returned to their ship.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said the two men had been handed over to an Australian customs ship, the Oceanic Viking, after being held for two days on a Japanese whaler which they boarded on the high seas.
"The moment we get them back on board we plan to resume what we came here to do, which is enforcing international conservation law," executive director Kim McCoy told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
"Now more than ever, it's imperative that we get right back on track immediately and go out and intervene against the illegal activities of the Japanese fleet."
The two activists — Australian Benjamin Potts, 28, and Briton Giles Lane, 35 — were detained Tuesday after boarding the harpoon ship Yushin Maru No 2 to protest Japan's whaling programme.
The Japanese whaling fleet is on its annual whale hunt in the Antarctic, with a target this year of killing about 1,000 of the giant mammals.
Japan exploits a loophole in a 1986 international moratorium on commercial whaling to kill the animals for what it calls scientific research, while admitting the meat from the hunt ends up on dinner plates.
The confrontation with Sea Shepherd had forced the Japanese fleet to suspend whaling for several days, but a spokesman for Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research said the whalers would resume the hunt as soon as possible.
"The Yushin Maru is heading back towards the rest of the research vessels and yes, when it has the opportunity, it will continue with the programme," Glenn Inwood said.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, who was at the forefront of negotiations to end the standoff, said Friday Canberra still strongly opposed Japan's whaling program.
He noted that the Oceanic Viking was already in the area on a mission to gain evidence of Japanese whaling for potential use in an international court challenge to end the hunt for good.
"Our ultimate objective is to get the Japanese to stop whaling in the Southern Ocean," he told reporters.
The Australian and Japanese governments had made arrangements to transfer the two men while "agreeing to disagree" about whaling, Smith said, adding that the two countries had strong ties.
"We have a very good relationship with Japan. If there hadn't been such a strong relationship, we wouldn't have seen such a speedy agreement," Smith said.An official from Japan's Fisheries Agency said Friday that the men who "intruded" onto the whaler had been picked up by the Australian ship.
"Two Sea Shepherd activists who intruded onto the Yushin Maru No 2 and have been in custody on the ship were handed over to the Oceanic Viking chartered by the Australian government," said Hideaki Okada, a whaling official at the Fisheries Agency in Tokyo.
Sea Shepherd's McCoy said its ship the Steve Irwin expected to pick the men up from the customs boat within a few hours.
"I've since spoken with one of the hostages who's no longer being held hostage, on board the Oceanic Viking, and he confirmed that they're both completely safe," she said.
Tokyo denies the claim the men were hostages, saying they had been treated well and the whaling ship had been keen to hand them over earlier.
"They're on the Oceanic Viking and they're just going to give them a place to sleep until we can pick them up in the morning at a rendezvous point," McCoy added.