July 13, 2011

Japan, Sea Shepherd In Heated Exchange At IWC Meeting

Japan and the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd exchanged barbs on Tuesday during a world whaling conference over the issue of hunting of cetaceans in waters around Antarctica.

In a plenary session of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which oversees the hunting and the protection of cetaceans, Japanese delegation chief Kenji Kagawa described Sea Shepherd's pursuit of Japanese whaling ships as "sabotage", and accused the group of engaging in "violent and illegal acts".

Kagawa showed video footage of some of the high-sea confrontations with Sea Shepherd, and called on Australia and The Netherlands, which let the group register its ships under their flags and dock in their ports, to block the anti-whaling group.

The two nations should "take adequate measures to stop their actions and ensure that they do not start again," Kagawa said.

However, Sea Shepherd skipper Paul Watson pledged to continue harassing Japanese whalers if they returned to the Antarctic sanctuary.

"We are trying to find out what Japan's intentions are," he said during an interview with the AFP news agency.

"If they go back to the Southern Ocean, then we go back the Southern Ocean," he said from aboard the trimaran Brigitte Bardot, docked at Saint Helier on the British Channel Island of Jersey.

"It doesn't make any economic or political sense for them to go back," he said.

Bardot, the former French movie star and animal-rights activist, contributed to the vessel, which was launched in May.

The 89-nation IWC, which is split about evenly between pro- and anti-whaling nations, has banned all types of commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, a vast area of sea surrounding Antarctica.

Japan says it conducts whale hunting in the sanctuary for scientific research, and determines its own quota of about 1,000 whales each year, on average, over the last five years.

Although the killing is permissible under IWC rules, other nations and environmental groups denounce it as disguised commercial whaling.

Japan recalled its Antarctic fleet in February, one month ahead of schedule with only twenty percent of its planned catch, citing interference from Sea Shepherd's vessels.

Watson said the adversity caused by Japan's March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which left some 28,000 people dead or missing, would not cause him to change his tactics.

"If there were an earthquake in Colombia, would we be less hard on cocaine smugglers?" he asked.

"The fact is, Japan's whaling is illegal, so just because there is a natural disaster in Japan is no reason for us to stop opposing their illegal activities in the Southern Ocean."

"Our objective right from the beginning was to sink the Japanese whaling fleet economically, to bankrupt them," he said.

In a report posted on Sea Shepherd's website, Watson elaborated on the matter.

"Japan is coming to this meeting hoping to trade-in worldwide sympathy for their plight in exchange for permission to kill more whales, and they are once again placing their proposal on the IWC agenda to have the U.S., Australia, and the Netherlands outlaw Sea Shepherd in their territories and to strip us of our registration and flags," he wrote.

"I delivered a letter to Dr. Simon Brockington, Secretary of the IWC, earlier today requesting permission for Sea Shepherd to be allowed to attend the IWC meeting so that we can defend ourselves from Japanese accusations. But most likely that will not be allowed, and Sea Shepherd will continue to be the only organization banished from attending," he wrote.

"I guess we should be proud of this fact. There is no other organization that saves more whales than Sea Shepherd. If the price of our aggressive and highly effective interventions is to be barred from attending the boring and unproductive political meetings of the IWC "“ so be it."

"However, without our attendance, the proposals by Japan before the IWC to condemn Sea Shepherd amount to a kangaroo court where we, the accused, are denied the opportunity to defend ourselves from the allegations from the whale killers."

Watson said the main reason that Sea Shepherd is in Jersey is to see if Japan intends to return to the Southern Ocean in December to resume their illegal slaughter of whales.

If so, Watson said Sea Shepherd would also return to intercept and block their operations. 

"If they return, we will launch Operation Divine Wind, and our vessels the Bob Barker, the Steve Irwin, and the Brigitte Bardot will soon return to the remote and stormy seas of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary to do what we do best "“ defend the whales!"

The IWC meeting is set to conclude on Thursday.


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