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Australian Court Orders Illegal Japanese Whale Hunt Stopped
SYDNEY, Australia, January 15, 2008 (ENS) - The Humane Society International today won a historic decision from the Australian Federal Court which the environmental group says could save hundreds of whales from Japanese harpoons. The court ruled that a Japanese whaling company is in breach of Australian law when it kills whales in the Australian Whale Sanctuary and has ordered that the hunt be stopped.

This is the first time the Japanese whalers have been taken to court and the ruling confirms that the hunt is illegal. The Japanese government says it is conducting research whaling, which is allowed under an international whaling moratorium, but critics of Japan say no research is involved.

The Japanese whaling company Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha has a permit from the Japanese government to kill up to 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales in Antarctica this summer. Based on records of previous hunts, some 90 percent of these whales will be killed in the Australian Whale Sanctuary, the Humane Society said.

Japanese crew members measure a minke whale's tail aboard a whaling vessel in the Southern Ocean. (Photo courtesy Institute of Cetacean Research)

The court states that since 2000 the Japanese whalers have killed 3,558 minke whales and 13 fin whales in the waters off Antarctica.

Justice James Alsop ruled that the Japanese company, which did not appear in court at any time during the proceedings, has violated the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, or the EPBC Act.

The company's offenses are having "killed, injured, taken and interfered with Antarctic minke whales (Balaenoptera bonaerensis) and fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) and injured, taken and interfered with humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Australian Whale Sanctuary..."

Australia's sovereignty in Antarctica is the jurisdictional basis for Australia declaring under its own domestic laws a whale sanctuary within its exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS.

Judge Alsop declared in his ruling that "the waters within 200 nautical miles from the Australian Antarctic Territory land mass are within the Australian Whale Sanctuary."

The judge acknowleged that "Australia's claim to sovereignty over the Australian Antarctic Territory is recognised only by four nations (New Zealand, France, Norway and the United Kingdom), themselves with asserted (and otherwise disputed) claims over various parts of the Antarctic land mass."

"Japan rejects Australia's purported exercise of jurisdiction over waters that are considered by Japan to be the high seas," Judge Alsop wrote. "This is not a ground for invalidity of the EPBC Act: the sovereign claim by Australia to the Australian Antarctic Territory is not a matter capable of being questioned in this Court in this proceeding..."

Judge Alsop ordered the company to stop whaling immediately.

Humane Society International said it will serve the order that the hunt be stopped at the company's headquarters in Tokyo right away and calls on the company "to abandon the hunt immediately."

Barely six weeks old, the government led by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has supported the Humane Society's case against the Japanese whalers in contrast to the previous government led by John Howard, who opposed it.

"HSI calls on the Rudd government to live up their pre-election commitment to enforce the Federal Court injunction against the whalers immediately so that no more whales are killed in the Australian Whale Sanctuary this summer," the Humane Society said.

Meanwhile, in the Southern Ocean, the captain of the Japanese Whaling Vessel Yushin Maru No. 2 is holding as hostages two Sea Shepherd crew members from the conservation vessel Steve Irwin who attempted to inform him that whaling is illegal.

The Japanese harpoon boat Yushin Maru No. 2 approaches the Steve Irwin. January 15, 2008. (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)

Australian citizen Benjamin Potts and British citizen Giles Lane have been tied to the radar mast of the harpoon vessel. The captain of the whaling vessel has refused Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson's demand for the release of the crew members.

Potts and Lane boarded the whaling vessel today with a message to inform the Japanese that they were illegally killing whales in the Southern Whale Sanctuary.

Watson is demanding that "Australia and Great Britain demand an immediate release of these two crew-members."

The letter that Lane delivered to the captain of the Japanese whaling vessel states, "I have come onboard your ship because you have refused to acknowledge communication from our ship pertaining to your illegal activities in the waters of the Australian Antarctic Territorial Economic Exclusion Zone."

"I am not boarding your ship with the intent to commit a crime, to rob you or to inflict injury upon your crew and yourself or damage to your ship. My reason for boarding is to deliver the message that you are in violation of international conservation law and in violation of the laws of Australia. It is my intent to deliver this message and then to request that you allow me to disembark from your vessel without harm or seizure. "

"I am empowered to act to uphold these laws in accordance with the United Nations World Charter for Nature and the laws of Australia."

"I am boarding you with the request that you please refrain from any further criminal activity in these waters and cease and desist with the continued killing of endangered whales in this designated Whale Sanctuary in violation of the IWC global moratorium on commercial whaling and that you cease and desist in continued violations of Australian law by killing whales within the territorial waters of Australia without permit or permission from the government of Australia."

Back in Canberra, Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett would not say that the government would seek to enforce the injunction and try to stop the Japanese from killing whales.

"We will have an adequate and comprehensive monitoring in place," Garrett told reporters. Garrett and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said last month that the Australian government would monitor the Japanese whalers to gather information and video evidence to back a lawsuit of its own against the Japanese.

An Australian Customs vessel left Perth last week on a 20-day monitoring mission.

On the weekend, the Greenpeace vessel Esperanza found the Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean. The crew says they "engaged in a high speed chase over hundreds of miles through fog and increasingly rough seas."

"The factory ship Nisshin Maru has now been driven out of the hunting grounds and all whaling has stopped - for now," said Greenpeace crew aboard the Esperanza.

But Glen Inwood, the official New Zealand spokesperson for the Japanese whaling says Greenpeace claims of a victory in the Southern Ocean are false. According to a New Zealand radio spokesperson, Inwood says the real trouble will begin when a ship from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society catches up with the whalers.

Sea Shepherd vessel the Steve Irwin heads for the Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean. (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd)

"That sounds about right," said Watson. "Greenpeace claims to have chased the Japanese whalers out of the whaling grounds yet the Japanese have never run from Greenpeace before. The truth is they are running from us. They have run from us every time we have engaged them in the past and they are running now."

The Sea Shepherd vessel the Steve Irwin has stopped chasing the Nisshin Maru, which is out of the whaling area, and is concentrating on pursuing the killer boats.

In Tokyo, Japan Whaling Association president Keiichi Nakajima Saturday warned Greenpeace to "stay away from the Japanese vessels conducting research in the Antarctic."

"Past activities of Greenpeace have been responsible for vessel collisions that risk the lives and safety of our researchers and crew and are illegal under international maritime law," Nakajima said. "I urge Greenpeace to desist from any harassment of the research vessels and to keep a safe distance" he said.

Nakajima said that Japan's research whaling "is perfectly legal under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling" and that a review of the results of the research by the IWC's Scientific Committee concluded that "have the potential to improve management of minke whales in the Southern Hemisphere."

"We are concerned that once again Greenpeace will use this opportunity to conduct more publicity stunts as part of the campaign that misinforms the public to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for the organization," Nakajima said. "We respect the right of safe, peaceful and lawful protest and urge Greenpeace to keep their activities within those limits," he said. "In the past this has definitely not been the case."

Greenpeace says, "Modern scientific research does not require whales to die." The organization, which got its start in the 1970s by interfering with Russian whaling, has a non-lethal research program.

In collaboration with scientists from the Cook Islands Whale Research, Opération Cétacés of New Caledonia and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Greenpeace scientists are doing satellite tracking, skin biopsy, and photo identification of whales to demonstrate the effectiveness of non-lethal research.

Greenpeace calls Japanese research whaling "an expensive hoax" and says most of the whale meat is "stockpiled in commercial freezers or ending up in dog food."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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