Whaler wants legal action against activists

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THE head of Japan’s latest whale hunt called for legal action today against anti-whaling activists who clashed with Japan’s fleet during an Antarctic hunt cut short by a fatal fire.

But neither the Japanese Government nor the institute that oversees its whaling program said they were considering such a move.

Japan’s main whaling ship, the 8000-tonne Nisshin Maru, limped into port last Friday with a haul of 508 whales after a fire last month that killed one crew member, crippled the ship and raised fears that oil or chemicals could spill into the Southern Ocean near the world’s biggest Adelie penguin colony.

The hunt was marked by clashes with anti-whaling groups, mainly the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, one of whose boats was damaged in an incident with a Japanese whaling vessel.

Sea Shepherd activists also poured acid on the decks of the Nisshin Maru to halt the crew’s work of cutting up whales, slightly injuring two crew members.

“We’d like to take strong legal action and stamp out this sort of activity,” Shigetoshi Nishiwaki, expedition leader and a staff member at the Institute for Cetacean Research, which oversees Japan’s whaling program, said.

“If we could we’d like to take action against all such groups …” he said.

Mr Nishiwaki said decisions about any legal action, including when and where it might be taken, could only be made after consultations with police and coast guard officials.

An official at the Institute for Cetacean Research said such decisions could only be made by the Fisheries Agency, and an official there said it was not considering legal steps.

Japan began its scientific whaling program a year after an international ban in 1986. The meat ends up on supermarket shelves and restaurant tables, but it is far from a daily menu choice for most Japanese.

Karli Thomas, who was on the Greenpeace anti-whaling ship Esperanza in the Southern Ocean, said there were no grounds for legal action and the Esperanza had offered help to the stricken Nisshin Maru after the fire broke out.

Japan declined the offer.

“We took no action on the ships, we simply responded to distress calls and offered our assistance,” she said.

“We’d be very surprised to see any legal action.”

Mr Nishiwaki cited a long history of clashes with Greenpeace, including in 1998 when its members boarded the Nisshin Maru in New Caledonia as it lay in port after another fire, to explain why Japan refused the group’s offer of assistance.

“Who could trust a group like this?” he said, adding that Greenpeace only made its offer as a form of self-promotion.

Ms Thomas countered: “We weren’t considering them to be a whaling ship, we were considering them a vessel in distress.”

The Esperanza is due to arrive in Tokyo tomorrow and Greenpeace said it plans to invite whaling officials on board.

This year was the first time in 20 years that Japan was forced to shorten its whaling expedition and its fleet took 505 minke whales and three fin whales instead of a planned 850 minke whales and 10 fin whales.

Source: Herald Sun (Australia)