January 7, 2009

Japan Hopes To Keep Activists From Port

On Tuesday, Japan said it plans to ask Australia, New Zealand, and Chile to ban the Steve Irwin, an anti-whaling protest ship, from using their ports to refuel. 

The Sea Shepherd group has used the Steve Irwin to chase Japanese whalers through Antarctic waters for nearly 2,000 miles. 

Japanese officials consider the group, and the actions of the Steve Irwin to border on piracy.  Officials reacted on Tuesday by saying they will ask nearby nations to keep the ship from taking port.

"We are going to request a port closure against it," said Foreign Ministry official Chiharu Tsuruoka. "They have obstructed our activities in the past, and their action is extremely dangerous. They are like pirates."

According to Tsuruoka, Japan has not yet made such a request because it is waiting to see where the Steve Irwin will try to port.

The Steve Irwin's captain and Sea Shepherd founder, Paul Watson, said he plans to dock in Australia to challenge former musician turned politician Peter Garrett.

"Peter Garrett made the decision for us really," said Watson. "When asked how he would respond to a Japanese request to bar the Steve Irwin from Australia he answered that the government would take the request into consideration. The fact that he would even consider such a request from pirate whalers was enough for us to challenge him on this."

Even though the ship is equally near to Hobart, Tasmania, and Puntarenas, Chile, Watson still wishes to return the ship to Australia.

Last year the Japanese fleet was tracked through the Antarctic Ocean by an Australian customs ship seeking evidence for a potential legal battle against whaling.

Japan has suspended its whale hunt after a crewman fell overboard.  The accident does not appear to be related to the Steve Irwin, or the Sea Shepherd protests.

The Japanese whale hunt plans to harvest nearly 980 whales.  The whaling is legal under International Whaling Commission rules if the hunting is done for scientific purposes. 

Those opposed to Japan's actions say the hunts are actually for commercial purposes.

In December, the Japanese fleet was attacked by the Sea Shepherd group when activists threw bottles of methyl cellulose, indelible dye mixture, and rotten butter at the fleet. 

The activist group has denied allegations that the Steve Irwin rammed a Japanese ship.


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