Emotional Anti-Whaling Battle Escalates in Southern Ocean

CANBERRA, Australia, January 16, 2007 (ENS) - Australian Environment Minister Ian Campbell says Japanese whalers will not be allowed to dock in Australia as long as he is minister.

Japan is about to begin its annual hunt of whales in the Southern Ocean under a provision in the International Whaling Commission regulations that allows for scientific research.

This year Japan plans to kill up to 935 Antarctic minke whales and 10 endangered fin whales. Humpback whales will be targeted in next year's hunt.

A longtime opponent of whaling, Senator Campbell says no Japanese whaling vessel can come in to an Australian port.

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Australian Environment Minister Ian Campbell (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
"They can only do that with my permission and I will not grant permission to Japanese whaling vessels or support vessels to use Australian ports," he said Wednesday.

Two ships of the conservation organization Sea Shepherd are expected to begin hunting the Japanese whaling fleet southeast of Australia in the Southern Ocean this week. They will try to interfere with or disable the Japanese whalers.

Greenpeace will sail south from Auckland, New Zealand later this month. The two conservation groups may both oppose whaling, but they are rivals and do not work together to achieve their goal.

Upon hearing the news that Australia is banning port access to Japanese whaling ships, Sea Shepherd founder and president Captain Paul Watson said he is very appreciative.

But Campbell has condemned the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for "foolhardy" tactics, saying Watson's actions would endanger lives and hurt international efforts to end whaling.

"His motivation to stop whaling is on the side of the angels and I share it," Campbell told "The Australian" newspaper Thursday, "but I think he's actually hurting the cause."

The Sea Shepherd flagship Farley Mowat is not sailing under the flag of any nation. The ship is considered a pirate vessel after it was stripped of its registration in Belize. The Farley Mowat cleared Australian Customs in Hobart, Tasmania on December 29, 2006 only hours before Belize struck its flag.

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The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's flagship the Farley Mowat, here shown departing Melbourne, Australia. The Sea Shepherd is based in Friday Harbor, Washington, USA. (Photo courtesy SSCS)
Registered under the Canadian flag since April 2002, the Farley Mowat had its registry suspended by Canada last October. Watson sought registry in Belize after Britain pulled the registry in early December the same day it was issued.

Now, as an unregistered pirate vessel, the Farley Mowat may be interdicted at will by any naval vessel of any government, its crew arrested, and the ship sunk.

By contrast, Senator Campbell applauded the anti-whaling approach of Greenpeace, saying the group's efforts had his blessing. Greenpeace launches small inflatables to interfere with the whalers and displays banners in protest of whaling.

"Greenpeace have done the world a favor by exposing these actions," the minister said. "Sea Shepherd are bringing the cause of whale conservation into disrepute."

By fax from aboard the Farley Mowat, Watson answered Campbell's cricitism, saying, "As for putting the cause of whale conservation backwards - I have spent 40 years protecting whales and I see no evidence that our activities will cause any more damage than that of governmental inaction."

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Captain Paul Watson in Melbourne, Australia. December 2006. (Photo courtesy SSCS)
"Australia speaks up for the whales, and I really do appreciate this, but words will not stop illegal Japanese whaling activities," wrote Watson. "As for being non-violent, there is a difference between violence and aggressive tactics."

Sea Shepherd has been opposing illegal whaling activities since Watson founded the organization in Vancouver, Canada in 1977. During these 30 years of Sea Shepherd activities no person has been injured and no Sea Shepherd activist has been convicted of a felony crime.

Watson maintains that Sea Shepherd intervenes against illegal activities in accordance with the principles established by and contained within the United Nations World Charter for Nature.

"All of the violence down here in these waters is instigated by the Japanese whalers," Watson wrote in his fax to Senator Campbell.

"Thousands of gallons of blood are being spilled into the waters off the coast of Antarctica. Great whales are dying in abject agony from the merciless harpoons of the Japanese whalers. The cold air of the Ross Sea echoes with the screams of the whales. The cruelty is unimaginable and the slaughter is remorseless."

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The Greenpeace vessel Esperanza in Auckland harbor. January 9, 2007. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
"Your blessing of Greenpeace activities is interesting," Watson wrote. "So, Greenpeace is now officially government approved. Iím not surprised Ė governmental approval is not hard to come by if one does little but posture and talk. While we are down here in Antarctic waters looking for whaling ships, the Greenpeace ship is at berth in New Zealand looking for memberships."

"Unlike the Greenpeace crews, we are not paid to be down here," Watson wrote. "Unlike the Greenpeace crews, we are actually down here now. Unlike the Greenpeace organization, we are not spending millions on advertisements and direct mail and door-to-door solicitations to fill the corporate coffers. We had to borrow money to get our second ship."

The Farley Mowat will soon be joined by another, faster, Sea Shepherd vessel, the Robert Hunter, named for the Canadian journalist and co-founder of Greenpeace who died in May 2005. At his funeral Captain Watson pledged to name a ship in his honor. Hunterís daughter Emily Hunter has joined the shipís crew for the campaign to defend whales in Antarctica.

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The newest Sea Shepherd vessel, the Robert Hunter, flying a pirate flag. (Photo courtesy SSCS)
Accusing the Australian government of all talk and little action to safeguard whales, Watson challenged Campbell and the Australian government to "come down here with your navy and stop us, if you refuse to stop the Japanese."

The Sea Shepherd has received support from the Green Party of Australia, which issued a statement calling Campbell "Minister Do-little."

"Federal Minister for the Environment Campbellís failure to intervene on Japanese whaling in Australiaís Antarctic waters leaves him in no position to criticize the Sea Shepherd and its crew," said Greens Leader Senator Bob Brown.

"Senator Campbell has condemned the Sea Shepherd but refused to send an Australian observation vessel to the Japanese killing grounds," Brown said.

"This summer the Japanese are even targeting humpback whales which have returned from their breeding migration along the Australian coastline. The government should send a surveillance naval vessel to record the slaughter and show the world what a terrible business killing whales is," Senator Brown said.

Campbell has called on Japanese whaling fleets not to use water cannons as a means of deterring protesters as they have done during past anti-whaling protests in the Southern Ocean.

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Japanese whalers turn water cannon on Greenpeace protesters from the Arctic Sunrise, December 16, 2001. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
"In the deep Southern Ocean, shooting a powerful water cannon at a human being puts them at risk of falling into the Southern Ocean," the minister said, where they could die of hypothermia or by falling under their propellers, or under ships.

At the last meeting of the International Whaling Commission, Australia and Japan both voted in favor of a resolution that governments "not condone any actions that are a risk to human life and property."

But in a statement issued January 9, the Japanese Whaling Association threatened violent action against the Farley Mowat.

"International law says any non-flagged vessel can be boarded for inspection, and in case of any violation or piracy, has to be detained with its crew arrested. If Paul Watson continues with his violent campaign using this vessel, then he'll be risking everything," said Japan Whaling Association President Keiichi Nakajima.

Nakajima called on the government of Japan to ensure everything possible is done to secure the safety of Japanese researchers and crew by boarding the Farley Mowat on the high seas and seizing the ship and arresting the crew as pirates.

Watson dismissed Nakajima's threats, saying that the crew of the Farley Mowat is prepared to defend the ship against Japanese violence. As for risking everything he said, "We are quite prepared to risk our lives and this ship for the whales."