Australia Draws Fire For Sending Plane, Not Ship, To Confront Whalers
December 23, 2013

Australia Draws Fire For Sending Plane, Not Ship, To Confront Whalers

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

As the controversial Japanese whaling season quickly approaches and as the conservationist group Sea Shepherd launches its fleet of vessels to confront whalers head on, Australia announced it would send a plane as well to monitor the situation in the Southern Ocean.

However, the country’s Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, is drawing fire from a campaign group for opting to send a plane rather than a ship.

The Greens, an Australian political party formed in 1992, is calling for Mr. Hunt to resign for breaching an election promise to send ships to the Southern Ocean to monitor the 2014 whaling season.

On Sunday, Hunt said that an A319 aircraft, coordinated and staffed by Customs personnel, would be deployed to the Southern Ocean to monitor whaling activities from January to March. As the Japanese fleet closes in on waters claimed by Australia, Hunt was forced to move quickly on his election promises.

While a ship was originally promised, Hunt says an aircraft would better monitor the activities of “all groups in the Southern Ocean,” referring to the the Sea Shepherd anti-whaling vessels as well as the whaling ships.

However, he made no mention of how a plane would be able to intercept vessels, nor how a plane would be able to react and respond to a violent and potentially deadly clash between the Japanese whalers and the Sea Shepherd activists.

“It is important for Australia to have a monitoring presence in the Southern Ocean given the risk of confrontation between whalers and protestors,” Hunt told The Guardian. “While we respect the right to peaceful protest, Australia will not condone any dangerous, reckless or unlawful behavior.”

Hunt cited “operational reasons” for the decision to send a plane rather than a boat.

“The aircraft will be able to monitor activities over a large area,” he said. “It sends a clear message that the Australian government expects all parties to abide by the laws of the sea.”

"The purpose of the customs mission will be to record the incidents on the high seas," said Hunt. "It will be to ensure there is a presence to make sure there is no conflict between the parties."

Taking the side of the Greens, the Sea Shepherd voiced its frustrations as well, angered by the administration’s decision to fall back on a promise to send a ship to the whaling waters.

"They haven't got the guts to go down there and do it," Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia, told the BBC’s Michael Bristow.

Hunt’s decision to send a plane backtracks on several key remarks and promises that the government would in fact monitor the activities of all parties by vessel.

According to The Guardian, Hunt said in February that Australia “should have a Customs vessel in the Southern Ocean.”

He then said in April that an entire fleet should be patrolling the Southern Ocean. At that time, Hunt also vowed that the Coalition “would make sure it is operational down there during the whaling season.”

By August, Hunt was committed to sending a vessel to the region, should the whaling season continue. The Coalition’s top ship, the ACV Ocean Protector, was built specifically to patrol the Southern Ocean. However, the ship has since been deployed to Christmas Island as part of the Operation Sovereign Borders campaign to intercept asylum-seeker boats. Since Hunt has largely lost rights to this boat to his colleague, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, the call to send a plane may have been the next best alternative.

“This is bitterly disappointing as Greg Hunt was clear in his rhetoric that a Customs vessel should be sent,” Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson said.

“This is a quick fix in a weak attempt to show he is holding up an election promise. Frankly, this is why people are so sick of politics in this country – you see someone so outspoken on whales for so long and when he has a chance to make a difference, he fails at the first post,” Whish-Wilson told The Guardian.

“I don’t think he’s been lying for the past six years on this, he has clearly been rolled by his cabinet colleagues. If he has any guts, he would resign. He should resign to help himself sleep at night,” he added.

Australia is currently engaged in an International Court of Justice dispute against Japan over whaling activities in the Southern Ocean. The government was hoping for a ruling before the 2014 season set sail, but that will likely not come until the new year.

A worldwide ban is in place on whale hunting. However, Japan falls into a loophole that allows hunting for scientific research. Japanese vessels used this provision during the last whaling season to catch 103 minke whales in the Southern Ocean.

But Australia does not buy into Japan’s scientific research claims and believes the country is engaging in commercial whaling. The UN’s International Court of Justice is expected to make its ruling within the next few months.

While Australia remains embroiled in a whale war on the home front, the Sea Shepherd deployed its fleet of three vessels last week, heading for Southern Ocean waters to engage the enemy head on.

The Steve Irwin, The Bob Barker and The Sam Simon all departed on Dec 18, 2013, for the Sea Shepherd’s tenth Antarctic Defence Campaign, called Operation Relentless.

The Sea Shepherd was successful in past years in saving countless whales, more than 4,500 by the conservationists account, with 932 whales saved just last year alone.

The Sea Shepherd has been supported greatly by people the world over and the group’s managing director, Jeff Hansen, says: “The crew on these ships carry with them the hope, the aspirations and the expectations of people from across the world who hope to see the end to this slaughter.”

"The departure of the Japanese whale poaching fleet is an offense to an international community patiently waiting on the expected ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Sea Shepherd will now, again, head south as the only authority acting to restore law and order to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary,” said Peter Hammarstedt, Captain of The Bob Barker.

More than 100 volunteers have signed on with the Sea Shepherd to stand guard for the Southern Ocean whales and to uphold the 1986 worldwide ban on commercial whaling.

“Like all poachers we encounter in our global campaigns, we will deal with the whalers the same way we always do: Relentlessly,” said Sea Shepherd Global Director, Alex Cornelissen.