June 2, 2010

Australia Taking Legal Action Against Japan’s Whaling

Japanese officials said Tuesday that Australia has launched legal action through the International Court of Justice to stop Japan's hunting of whales.

Australia's action in The Hague follows months of tension between Canberra and Tokyo, which is allowed to kill whales because of a loophole in the 1986 international moratorium that allows lethal "scientific research."

"We were informed that Australia has filed a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice regarding research whaling," a Japanese fisheries agency official told AFP news. "We will discuss how to deal with it."

Hirofumi Hirano, Japan's top government spokesman, said: "I think it is extremely regrettable. The Japanese government will deal with it properly, based on our position."

Australia has been protesting Japan's annual whaling expeditions in Antarctic waters, and recently it hardened its stance by announcing on Friday that it would launch legal action in The Hague this week.

"We want to see an end to whales being killed in the name of science in the Southern Ocean," Environment Protection Minister Peter Garrett told AFP last week, vowing "to bring a permanent end to whaling in the Southern Ocean".

A Japanese foreign ministry official told AFP on Tuesday: "We are studying our strategy regarding the lawsuit. Details are yet to be decided, but we won't disclose our strategy even after we make a decision."

The legal action comes just before an International Whaling Commission meeting in Morocco on June 21-25.  The meeting will discuss a compromise to end years of divisions among its pro- and anti-whaling members.

The plan would allow Japan to hunt the mammals openly if they agree to reduce their catch "significantly" over 10 years.

Australia has attacked the compromise, under which Japan's Antarctic catch would drop down to 410 whales next season and then 205 in the 2015-2016 seasons.

Japanese whalers have clashed in recent years with militant environmentalists who harass them on the higher seas.

The adversaries regularly trade icy jets from water cannon in their annual clashes, while the environmentalists hurl blood-red paint containers and rancid butter stink booms at the whaling ships.

The U.S.-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society harassed Japanese whalers in Antarctic waters during the 2009-2010 season.

Peter Bethune, one of its members, is on trial in Japan on five charges after he boarded the security ship of the Japanese whaling fleet in February and was detained.

The New Zealander pleaded guilty last week to all but a charge of assault, which relates to his firing a rancid butter stink bomb during a protest on February 11 against the whalers.

Bethune faces up to 15 years in prison if he is convicted.  The court will announce the verdict on June 10.

Japan is also seeking Interpol's help to arrest Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson.  Japan says whaling has been part of its culture for centuries.